Advocating change: Panera Bread challenges America’s food transparency

By Gill Hyslop

- Last updated on GMT

Sandwich chain Panera Bread wants its customers to know exactly what is in its foods.
Sandwich chain Panera Bread wants its customers to know exactly what is in its foods.

Related tags Panera bread Transparency whole grains Labelling

Panera Bread has launched a marketing campaign focused on food transparency that includes new nutritional menu labeling and a video series exploring food issues.

The St. Louis-based sandwich chain is disclosing the whole grain content of its breads on its menus.

It labels servings of whole grain per slice, roll or bagel, as well as the whole grain percentage.

The move follows several years of marketing to increase transparency around the food it serves.  

In 2016, Panera finished phasing out artificial ingredients from its menu, followed by the disclosure of the amount of added sugar and calories in its fountain drinks, and it introduced a new line of drinks with lower sugar and no artificial sweeteners, flavors, colors or preservatives last year.

“We want more informed consumers, because more informed consumers create demand for products that we want to sell,”​ said Sara Burnett, the company's director of wellness.

“We’re not necessarily anticipating some huge shift. But always hopeful.”

Opening dialogue

The company has also launched a video series entitled “Food Interrupted” to spark a dialogue about the food system, ultimately giving consumers more information and simple ways to affect change.

The six weekly episodes – to be aired on Facebook Watch – will feature chefs, actors and social media personalities exploring issues like plant-based diets, sugar consumption, egg production and cattle farming technologies.

The first episode, “Grains Interrupted,” features celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson and Weiser Family Farms’ Jon Hammond discussing the importance of ancient grains and their role in the future of food.

From the inside out

 “At our size and scale, we believe it’s part of our job to help revolutionize the food industry from the inside out – challenging the way things have always been done,”​ said Blaine Hurst, Panera’s CEO.

“From the whole grain in our breads to the ingredients in our food – we will be relentless, leading by example and committed to increased transparency.

“But we can’t do it alone. People deserve to know more about their food and how it makes its way to their plate. Together, we can make a real change in the food system.”

Legal definition

According to Panera, although the USDA recommends whole grains make up at least half of all grains eaten in a day, more than half of the country’s top restaurant chains do not offer a whole grain option on their menus.

Those that do, use vague terms like “multigrain,” “nine grain,” or “made with whole grains” that may create 'an undue health halo' for their bread offerings, it claimed.

By law, a bread can only be called whole grain if it offers 50% or more whole grain content.

Panera currently offers six whole grain offerings, including its Farmstyle Loaf made with 55% whole grain and offering 1.2 servings of whole grain per slice.

Food Interrupted episodes

  • Grains Interrupted: Chef Marcus Samuelsson and Weiser Family Farms’ Jon Hammond on the importance of ancient grains.
  • Plants Interrupted: Kevin Curry and firefighter turned cookbook author Rip Esselstyn visit a firehouse to discuss the benefits of a plant-based diet.
  • Sugar Interrupted: Chef Sam Talbot, a Type 1 diabetic, discusses managing sugar intake and explores emerging technology that could be a potential game changer for those struggling with diabetes.
  • Eggs Interrupted: New York Times best-selling author and food enthusiast Hannah Hart on 100% eggs.
  • Meat Interrupted: Chef Chris Cosentino visits a cattle ranch to learn about a new technology helping to track animal health.
  • Clean Interrupted: Actor Rainn Wilson explores crop sharing among urban gardeners.


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