Panera Bread Puts Artificial Ingredients on 'No No List'

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Panera Bread Restaurant
By Jim Gold

Panera Bread (PNRA) is saying "no, no" to 150 artificial ingredients in hopes you'll say "yes, yes" to its "clean" menu offerings.

The trendy bakery-cafe fast-casual restaurant chain, headquartered in a St. Louis suburb, is the latest food company responding to customers demanding fresh, natural and minimally processed foods, as shown in a Nielsen survey.

Panera is sharing its "No No List" of ingredients that will be removed from or never appear in its menu items.

%VIRTUAL-pullquote-The 'No No List' is the latest step on our journey to clean food and a transparent menu.%"Last year we unveiled our Food Policy to hold ourselves accountable to long-held values and set the future vision for our menu," founder and CEO Ron Shaich said in a prepared statement announcing the ingredient ban. "The 'No No List' is the latest step on our journey to clean food and a transparent menu."

The artificial additives on the list will be removed from bakery items, soups, salads and sandwiches.

On May 6, Panera launched what it called "clean" salad dressings, made without artificial sweeteners, colors, flavors and preservatives. Panera salads, including the Strawberry Poppyseed & Chicken Salad and Kale Caesar, are made entirely without these artificial additives, the company said.

"Dressings have been one of the most complex projects given the number of artificial additives -- namely flavors and preservatives -- conventionally used for taste and consistency," said Dan Kish, Panera Bread's head chef.

Kish told NPR he and his team pored over hundreds of additives and asked two questions: What is this? And why is it used?

For example, when he learned titanium dioxide was added to mozzarella cheese just to create an ultra-white appearance, he said, "Let's just take it out."

Other companies recently claiming they want to make their foods with more simple, easy-to-understand ingredients include Nestle, Hershey (HSY) and Kraft (KRFT), which will make its macaroni and cheese without its artificial orange hue. Some companies, including candy makers, are removing artificial colors and flavorings. Others, such as McDonald's, say they are working to remove antibiotics from meat and poultry in their food chains.

In April, Chipotle announced that it had eliminated all genetically modified ingredients from the foods sold in its national restaurant chain, saying that GMOs require more research before their impact can be understood.

Panera officials and others acknowledge the removal of artificial ingredients alone won't necessarily make their dishes any healthier.

"We are not scientists," Shaich said.

Still the move won praise from some watchdogs groups.

"With this bold commitment, Panera is showing impressive leadership in the restaurant industry to give consumers what they increasingly demand: food with fewer artificial ingredients and additives," said Ken Cook, Environmental Working Group president and co-founder.
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