Panera Bread CEO Says the Company Is Taking Clean Eating Lessons from Influencers, Experts

December 14, 2018

By Chloe Aiello

Panera Bread is on a mission to educate the world about clean, affordable eating ー and in the process, the company is receiving its own education, CEO Blaine Hurst told Cheddar on Friday.

"We are in the relentless pursuit of clean eating, we will not give up until we actually make a true difference," Hurst said. "When people join us in the journey, it actually helps us all because it actually does make the food even more affordable."

Panera has a reputation for being a leader in healthy eating initiatives. In 2004, the company introduced antibiotic-free chicken to its restaurants, and removed artificial trans-fats in 2007. In 2010, Panera began listing calories next to food items on its menus, well before the law requiring it officially went into effect.

To bolster its efforts even further, the company introduced in October a new digital platform and video series, "Food Interrupted," which aims to help consumers make better, more informed decisions about food.

"As we looked at the opportunity for Panera in the marketplace to share its message of healthy eating, we realized we can't simply go out and talk about Panera. There is far more to better eating than even Panera knows, and so we partnered with food influencers, chefs like Marcus [Samuelsson], to tell more of that story of key issues around food in the marketplace today."

In the series, influencers and experts like Samuelsson, Rainn Wilson and Kevin Curry educate viewers on different ingredients ー eggs, sugar, and grains, for example. Hurst said even Panera walks away from the episodes a little wiser.

During the grains episode, for example, the company learned the value of whole grains and adjusted its practices accordingly. It now labels baked goods made with 50 percent or more whole grains, and includes the percentage.

And although Panera's healthy eating initiatives give it a competitive advantage over other companies, Hurst said he hopes other restaurants will follow suit because it will help to make clean, whole foods more accessible and affordable.

Of course not everything at Panera is health food ー Hurst said the restaurants still sells their fair share of soda and sweet treats. The company just hopes to spread a little awareness along the way.

"We're not the food police," Hurst said.

For full interview click here.