We applaud their move.
Okay, so you may never be able to fully enjoy your favorite beverage again at Panera — at least not without a tinge of guilt. But in the long run, that's probably a good thing.
That's because Panera Bread has promised customers that it will begin to label added sugar and calorie information for all beverages served on its premises beginning April 5. CEO and founder Ron Shaich told Fortune: “We feel a responsibility and desire to offer real options and real transparency.”
The FDA has newly required packaged food and beverage manufacturers to reveal added sugar amounts in their nutrition fact panels, but they haven’t forced any of those new rules on restaurants (at least not yet). That makes Panera’s decision a doubly significant one. It’s currently the only national restaurant chain to pledge to display added sugar information on its menu.
In addition to the new sugar initiative, the chain will be simultaneously launching a line of "clean" drinks, all of which contain no artificial sweeteners and preservatives. These include green tea, agave lemonade, and plum ginger hibiscus tea, and all the new beverages range from zero grams of added sugar to about 35.
"We know consumers are drinking more water and more low-calorie beverages. They are paying attention to added sugar," Panera director of wellness Sara Burnett told Fortune. "But we also know that water sometimes is boring and they are looking for something that’s craveable to drink. And so this is our answer to that."
It’s a huge move for the brand, but not unprecedented. Panera's menu has transformed substantially over the past few years, with things like saccharin, aspartame, and high fructose corn syrup slowly disappearing.
"We aren't the food police and telling them what to drink, but we are giving them real options," said Burnett.
Panera’s also not the only food chain to bow to consumer demands for “cleaner” food. McDonald’s announced just this week that it will begin serving fresh beef, rather than frozen, in its Quarter Pounder burgers at all of its restaurants by mid-2018. And on Tuesday, Chipotle announced that its newly-revamped, preservative-free menu contains just 51 total ingredients, including organic produce, hormone-free meat, and no GMOs.
This is one trend we can easily get behind. Let's hope the momentum continues.