The Work Is Just Beginning

Ron Shaich, the Founder, Chairman, and CEO of Panera Bread, wrote an open letter to America in yesterday’s The New York Times.

He uses this opportunity to highlight how Panera’s standard for the last 10 years of only serving chicken raised without antibiotics will now also apply to their roasted turkey, ham, breakfast sausage, and bacon.

Shaich adds: “And just last month, we became the first national restaurant brand to publish a list of artificial ingredients we will be removing from our menu by the end of 2016. Our food will have no artificial colors, preservatives, sweeteners or flavors. None whatsoever.”

Why is Panera making this shift? Shaich’s acknowledges consumer demand plays a part in it.

He includes in this letter, current facts about obesity:  “Today, one-third of our kids are overweight or obese and one-third of adults are obese.” Plus, the staggering fact that: “For the first time in our history, our children are expected to live shorter lives than their parents.” A collective nightmare for parents.

I recognize the public relations aspect of Shaich’s letter as well as the economic possibilities for Panera. If you own a business, you need to make a profit.

I hope he’s sincere. He encourages his competitors and suppliers to rethink the way they conduct their businesses. I want to mention other national restaurants brands also offer “cleaner” food choices. For example, Chipotle has a commitment to organic food and local sourcing.

By highlighting Panera’s changes, Shaich is admitting the poor quality of food being served to us today—hormone-fed poultry and beef, artificial colors, preservatives, etc. Food suppliers and businesses have been knowingly doing this for years.

Many of us haven’t thought about this or don’t want to think about it. Realize the messages you send food companies every time you place a food item in your grocery cart. Connecting with this, Shaich calls on us to be part of the solution: “Care. Ask questions. Demand transparency and cleaner menus.”

Again, much of this is occurring because of consumer demand. We have considerable power. Demand to know where your food is coming from, how it was raised/grown (i.e., were pesticides and/or hormones used), question the practices of agri-businesses, etc.

Mr. Shaich, I like what your company is doing. I view this as a first step. As some possible next ones, how about serving only organic food? Thus, you’ll also be eliminating genetically-modified food from your menu. Regarding your comments on the rates of obesity, reduce the amount of sugar and refined carbohydrates in your food.  Or how about excluding produce on the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen™ List and emphasizing the ones on their Clean Fifteen™ List as discussed in my last two posts.

The work is just beginning. We will be watching.

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