Panera Wants FDA to Call an Egg (and Only an Egg) an Egg

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Panera is trying to drum up some publicity over the definition of the word 'egg.'
Panera is trying to drum up some publicity over the definition of the word 'egg.' Credit: Panera Bread

Rather than taking a traditional approach to promiting its overhauled breakfast sandwiches, Panera Bread wants to get the government involved.

The fast-casual chain says it planned to file a citizen petition with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration late Thursday night seeking a clearer definition from the agency on the term "egg."

The filing stunt comes as Panera rolls out updated egg sandwiches nationwide—over-easy eggs on brioche buns—part of a larger effort to grow its breakfast business. Panera says research during its development process led it to realize that some rivals treat their eggs with additives, color them or freeze them. Now it's trying to make the case that there's enough of a difference among the methods to require a definition.

"We're big advocates of ensuring people know what they're eating," says Panera's senior VP of marketing, Chris Hollander. "We were surprised at just how complicated some of the other competition's eggs were. It seemed like a natural for us to then reach out to the FDA."

Of course, Panera isn't waiting for any government response before other public outreach. A 15-second TV spot began airing this week, billboards now feature the updated sandwiches (including some with the yolk appearing to drip down from the sign) and on Friday it's sampling the sandwiches in New York.

"It's still just an egg, but there's much more culinary expertise to it now," says Hollander.

Panera previously used fresh eggs but placed them in the quick-serve industry's ubiquitous rings to get that perfect circular shape meant for sandwiches. McDonald's cracks eggs into such rings for cooking.

While Panera's marketing isn't calling out competitors by name, it says it reviewed products at chains including Burger King, Dunkin' Donuts, Starbucks and Taco Bell.

"We chose to use 'egg' in the name of our breakfast sandwiches because we use a whole, shell egg to craft them," Panera wrote in a draft of the letter to the FDA shared with the media before it was to be filed. "But we found that some foodservice and retail competitors use the same term, 'egg,' within their product names and product descriptions to describe menu items that contain egg patties or egg products containing food additives ranging from preservatives to colors to emulsifiers."

The breakfast sandwich effort is Panera's main marketing push for the first quarter, says Hollander. Anomaly is the creative agency on the campaign, with Wavemaker on media. Panera says it spends just north of $100 million a year on paid media.

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