Panera CEO says Chipotle CEO has 'problems' and 'shouldn't be throwing bombs'

Panera Bread CEO Ron Shaich is firing back at Steve Ells, the CEO of Chipotle, after Ells accused Panera of misleading customers with claims of "clean" food.

"I think that Steve Ells and the folks at Chipotle have had more than their fair share of problems," Shaich told Business Insider in an interview. "With the type of problems they have had, maybe they shouldn't be throwing bombs."

Shaich was referring to Chipotle's E. coli outbreak, which started in late 2015 and sent sales sliding by as much as 30%. Chipotle hasn't yet seen a full sales recovery since the outbreak.

"They have usually followed our lead and we have been helpful to them in the past. But I guess given their problems they need to hit the leader on this," Shaich said, calling Ells' remarks "personally offensive."

Ells told Business Insider's Kate Taylor this week that Panera shouldn't use the word "clean" to describe its menu, since some of its food still contains natural flavors, which Ells referred to as an "industrial ingredient." His comments came as Chipotle announced that it had become the first national restaurant brand with no added colors, flavors, or preservatives of any kind on its food menu.

See some of the healthiest fast-food breakfasts at your favorite chains:

America’s healthy fast-food breakfasts
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America’s healthy fast-food breakfasts

McDonald’s is another fast-food giant that has introduced items (and even an entire menu, as of last week) focused on offering healthier options to diners.

Credit: Flickr/UggBoy

Burger King
As tough as it may be to walk into Burger King for breakfast and avoid ordering hash browns or Cini-minis, your body will thank you.


Jack in the Box
The beauty of Jack in the Box is the how varied their menu options are; you can get everything from a chicken teriyaki bowl to a bacon cheeseburger. When it comes to healthy breakfast options, however, the pickings are much slimmer.

Credit: Jack in the Box

Dunkin’ Donuts
It’s no surprise that Dunkin’ Donuts would have plenty of options when it comes to breakfast, but what you may not know is that the chain offers DDSmart designated items designed to help customers make healthier choices.

Credit: Facebook/Dunkin 'Donuts

Au Bon Pain
With offerings similar to Panera Bread, Au Bon Pain has breakfast options galore. While it’s still possible to get carried away with all of the pastries and heavy coffee drinks available, there are a few more health-conscious items on the menu.

Credit: Facebook/Au Bon Pain

Panera Bread
Panera Bread offers a wide array of options for breakfast, including many breads and pastries made fresh daily. But for those looking for something healthier, there are a few options worth noting.

Credit: Facebook/Panera

Sonic’s breakfast menu is extensive, but in terms of the nutritious offerings, it leaves much to be desired.

Credit: Facebook/Sonic

Starbucks made its debut into the hot sandwiches game fairly recently, with a host of savory items for breakfast and lunch. Not surprisingly, a number of the items on the menu are very healthfully conscious.

Credit: Flickr/kennej

Subway is no stranger to attracting a more health-conscious clientele, and that trend continued when the company introduced its breakfast menu a few years ago.

Credit: Facebook/Subway

Wendy's is working to offer more healthy options, and this sentiment certainly extends to its breakfast menu.

Credit: Wendy's


In response, Shaich said that Panera has been on a 20-year journey toward a "clean" menu, which has meant ridding its food of antibiotics, preservatives, and other additives commonly found in mass-produced food.

The company started serving antibiotic-free chicken in 2004 and in 2015 released a list of 156 artificial flavors, preservatives, and sweeteners that are banned from its restaurants.

Shaich said Panera has always been straightforward with customers about its definition of "clean," and has posted calorie information for every item on its menu to help them make healthier decisions.

"For us, this hasn't been something that we woke up yesterday to try to do," he said. "It's something we have been trying to do for 20 years."

"Clean" has no formal definition as it relates to food, though many restaurant chains use the word to indicate their menus are free of artificial ingredients.

Natural flavors, unlike artificial flavors, use extracts from natural ingredients — or ingredients that are naturally occurring in nature. But some say they aren't that different from artificial ingredients, since they are still produced in a lab.

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