Reflecting the broader consumer movement that seeks to avoid processed foods, Panera has begun to promote a new menu, based mainly on what the food items do not feature, rather than what they do. Its “clean menu” reflects the restaurant chain’s efforts to develop and implement what it calls a “No No List” of ingredients that modern consumers do not want to ingest.Lo-res_155159681-S

The No No List contains some familiar food culprits, such as too much sugar or too many calories. But it also reflects consumers’ growing awareness of and education about the potential effects of complex preservatives and artificial colorings or flavors. Eliminating all these ingredients has required an intricate, in-depth, and lengthy development process.

For its broccoli cheddar soup for example, Panera had to take care; it is one of its top selling menu items, so the taste, consistency, and appearance could not change. But to make its way onto the clean menu, the soup also had to exclude all sodium phosphate, a very common preservative. Finding cheese that did not contain any of this preservative was a significant challenge for the company. Furthermore, it excluded bleached wheat flour, which of course altered the color of the soup. With its detailed analyses and complicated requirements to achieve “clean” status, the redevelopment of the soup underwent more than 60 different iterations. And that was before Panera realized it also needed to revise the Dijon mustard it included as an ingredient in the soup, because that condiment also contained preservatives.

In addition to excluding artificial preservatives, sweeteners, and flavors, Panera is expanding its notion of healthy menus to include more plant-based, and fewer animal-based, protein sources on its menu board. The company has announced new animal welfare standards for its suppliers as well.

In these adjustments, Panera is responding to various trends in its consumer markets, especially the growing focus on clean eating and healthy alternatives to traditional fast food menus. In this sense, marketing today can be just as much about what products don’t contain as it is about what ingredients they offer.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why has Panera developed its “clean menu”?
  2. Is this extension of its existing menu likely to be successful? Why or why not?

Source: Beth Kowitt, “Panera Really Wants You to Know What’s Not in Its Soups,” Fortune, January 5, 2016