Panera is the first national chain to label its climate-friendly meals in a push it hopes others will follow, and one that leaves nearly half of its own foods off of its “cool food” list.
It is the latest push by Panera to guide customers to make more informed decisions about what they choose to consume. Panera began listing calories on its menus in 2010, years ahead of many other major chains. In 2017, it pointed out how much added sugar was included in cold drinks such as lemonade, soft drinks and tea. Now, it wants to help people figure out if the foods they order have less impact on the world’s climate than other options. The move kicks off with the chain’s online menu on Wednesday.
Food production is responsible for nearly 25% of greenhouse gas emissions, Panera points out. Seeing a “cool food meal" logo on the menu beside dishes that make the cut can inform diners that those options correlate to having less of a carbon footprint.
The effort, says Panera Bread CEO Niren Chaudhary, fits into the brand’s mission in “the relentless pursuit of good eating.” That doesn’t mean Panera is going to take foods that don’t get the logo off of its menu. “There’s no aspect of a sacrifice,” says the CEO, who joined the chain in 2019.
At Panera, 55% of entrees can be labeled “cool food meals,” meaning they are more climate-friendly. Dishes that get a passing grade include the Chipotle Chicken Avocado Melt, Fuji Apple Chicken Salad, and soups such as Bistro French Onion (the one promoted by Phyllis from “The Office”) and Broccoli Cheddar.
Items that don’t make the cut include Spinach Bacon Souffle, Southwest Chile Lime Ranch Salad with Chicken, Heritage Ham and Swiss Sandwich, and a bowl of mac & cheese (even the broccoli cheddar version that Michael Bolton swooned over in a recent campaign).
And Chaudhary is at the ready with statistics to help illustrate the impact people’s changes could have. If all Americans replaced 10 quarter-pounder burgers and fries with the chain’s Chipotle Chicken Avocado Melt sandwiches and potato chips, it would be the equivalent of taking 16 million cars off the road for a year, he says.
The idea to identify food’s climate impact came about last year. It’s a way to take data “that we tuck away into CSR reports that no one ever reads” and help turn it into action, says Sara Burnett, Panera’s VP of food values, sustainability & public affairs.