Imagine what else is lurking in restaurant and packaged food that you don’t know about. It is great to see major companies respond to consumer demands and remove problematic ingredients. Hopefully, all of the troubling ingredients are being removed, not just the ingredients the brand wants customers to know about.
(Bruce Horovitz–May 5, 2015) Panera has put it in writing.
The trendy, fast-casual chain widely known for the quality of its food and integrity of its ingredients on Tuesday will become the first national restaurant chain to publicly post a comprehensive list of all artificial additives that it has removed — or plans to remove by the end of 2016 — from the food it serves.
Panera has dubbed it the “No-No List.” The list includes more than 150 ingredients — from BHT to maltodextrin to sulfur dioxide — that Panera is in the process of removing from its foods.
Also, beginning Wednesday, Panera will only sell salads with “clean” salad dressings, all made without artificial sweeteners, colors, flavors and preservatives. The ingredients on Panera’s salad menu still evolving to meet the 2016 commitment are croutons, tortilla strips, pepperoncini and bacon.
The moves are next-steps that follow an announcement Panera made less than a year ago to ultimately junk all artificial additives from its menu. The driver behind this action reflects the rapid evolution in consumer concern over artificial-anything in foods and beverages. More than 60% of consumers in a recent survey by marketing firm Nielsen said the absence of artificial colors or flavors is important to their food purchase decisions.
“This is like our own ‘Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval’ that says: This is a transparent list of ingredients you won’t find at Panera,” company CEO Ron Shaich said in a phone interview. “This is truly the first, real salvo in the effort for food transparency.”
The process of removing all the artificial additives has not been simple, Shaich said. “This is really hard when you have 465 different ingredients. But I want to serve food that’s clean,” he said. “I want to serve food that I feel good about my daughters eating.”
Some examples of artificial additive removal:
• Greek salad dressing — removed hydrogenated soy protein, maltodextrin, propylene glycol alginate, and the generic spice blend.
• Mozzarella on tomato mozzarella flatbread — removed titanium dioxide.
• Chicken noodle soup — removed hydrolyzed soy and corn protein, autolyzed yeast extract, and modified corn starch
• Poppyseed dressing —- removed cellulose gel and artificial flavors.
The action by Panera does not include the beverages it sells, though executives say they are working on that, too, particularly in bottled beverages.
Nutritionists are generally supportive of Panera’s actions to dump artificial additives.
“Panera is setting a high bar,” said Marion Nestle, professor of nutrition at New York University. “These are all ingredients used in highly processed foods to make them look, taste, and hold together better — for the most part, cosmetics.”
But one consumer advocate questions Panera’s motives.
“I applaud Panera for replacing dyes and certain other questionable additives in its foods,” said Michael Jacobson, executive director of Center for Science in the Public Interest. “But eliminating many of the ingredients with unfamiliar chemical names, like calcium propionate and sodium erythorbate, is done solely for PR purposes and not to make safer, more healthful foods.”
Jacobson also noted that the far bigger nutritional problem with Panera’s menu is the high calorie count of many of its foods and its wide use of white flour and excessive use of sugar.
“We want to be an ally for people eating well — not the food police,” CEO Shaich said. “There are days when I love the indulgence of a blueberry muffin. We’re about the joy of food.”