Panera's Next 'Clean' Crusade: Calling Out Added Sugars in the Drinks It Sells

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A sign that Panera will start displaying in its cold beverage area to inform customers about the amount of added sugar in various drinks. Credit: Panera Bread.

Panera Bread is bringing its transparency messaging to cold drinks, with plans to display added sugar and calorie content for self-serve drinks and to introduce six new beverages with less sugar than traditional carbonated soft drinks.

Panera said it is the first national chain to label added sugar and calories for all of its self-serve beverages. Signs near its beverage stations will indicate both in numbers and in graphic form how much added sugar is in a 20-ounce serving of each drink.

"We just hope the consumers have enough information," said Chris Hollander, senior VP and head of marketing. "They deserve to know what's in their cup."

His comments echoed the line "You deserve to know what's in your cup" featured in a one-page ad set to run in Friday's Washington Post announcing the move.

Panera's new drinks and signs will start rolling out in company-operated restaurants in April and should be in franchised locations by the fall. They follow Panera's effort to overhaul the ingredients in its food to make it, as it says, 100% clean, meaning free from artificial preservatives, flavors and sweeteners and colors. The company said in January that it had reached that goal. The calorie listings also follow the chain's 2010 decision to post calories for food items on its menu boards.

The 100% clean pledge, however, only applies to food. Panera is not eliminating any drinks laden with high levels of sugar or calories from its lineup.

An ad planned for the Friday, March 31, 2017 Washington Post. Credit: Panera Bread.

"Our goal is not to dictate what you drink, it's to be transparent and provide you with the information you need to make informed choices," CEO Ron Shaich says in the Washington Post ad, which was created by Anomaly. "And we challenge the beverage and restaurant industries to join us in this effort."

Panera said it discussed the initiative with more than 40 wellness experts including registered dietitians. It also talked with PepsiCo, which makes many of the soft drinks sold in Panera restaurants, about the plan.

The calorie and added sugar listings include Panera's six new proprietary teas, lemonades and frescas as well as the PepsiCo beverages it sells.

Two new iced teas contain zero grams of added sugar. A fresca drink sweetened with fruit juice is listed as having no added sugar. The other new drinks -- Passion Papaya Green Tea, Blood Orange and Lemonade Agave Lemonade -- each contain less than 35 grams of added sugar per 20-ounce serving. By comparison, a 20-ounce Pepsi contains 69 grams of sugar. The drinks Panera is introducing also follow the chain's 100% clean formula. Pepsi contains high fructose corn syrup, one of the items on Panera's so-called "no-no list" for food.

Beverage makers including Coca-Cola and PepsiCo have been selling more smaller-sized single-serve containers such as cans to appeal to consumers seeking to consume fewer calories.

Panera's drink focus comes days after Chipotle declared itself "the only national restaurant brand to use no added colors, flavors or preservatives in its food." Like Panera, Chipotle excludes beverages from its claims. The companies use different guidelines to declare their food all-natural or clean.

"We're happy when others join us," Mr. Hollander said.

The effort, while not backed by a significant budget, also includes paid social media messages and influencer outreach. Panera's total annual media spending is about $100 million, according to the company.

Panera's sales at longstanding company-owned restaurants rose 4.2% in 2016. The company expects such sales to rise 3.5% to 4.5% this year.

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