What is Food as it Should Be? Panera Asks The Question

July 16, 2015   52 Comments

I have a problem with companies that drape themselves in a veil of healthy. They are almost always doing something truly hypocritical.

Panera: Food as it Should Be?

Whole Foods, for example, serves deep-fried buffalo chicken wings in its buffet section while at the same time advertising kale on its grocery bags. Is the kale on the bag supposed to make us feel better about buying and inhaling the chicken wings?

The latest fast food marking campaign that caught my eye is Panera’s. The above photo is of their bakery section. They are the latest company to ban artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives from their food –which I think is very nice. As you can see they haven’t changed the “flip flop cookie” as of yet but they promise to get to it by 2016.

Here is their latest advertisement featuring a conversation with Ron (their CEO).

He asks us to demand good food from our restaurants so I am now going to do some serious demanding.

  • Bread is one of your main products – why is the Whole Grain bread not 100% whole grain?
  • Does good food include a 1050 calorie Steak and White Cheddar sandwich with 17 grams of fat and 1910 grams of sodium?
  • Why do you insist on drowning your salads in dressing? Can you please get the cashier to ask customers if they want your dressing on the side?

Every single one of my concerns with Panera or any of the other companies excited about taking out food additives is that they aren’t cracking the big health issues in American cuisine.

  1. The food can be healthier by ADDING ingredients like ensuring the bread is 100% whole grain.
  2. Portion sizes are way out of control – look at those cookies and cinnamon buns! They are bigger than my eight year old’s head. Have smaller options for a lower price.
  3. Give customers options to reduce the calorie impact of your food. Ask them (not unlike Starbucks) how they want it made.

I know that I sound like a crankly old lady and I am sure someone in the comment section is going to tell me to STOP expecting businesses to care about our health.

BUT, Ron, CEO of Panera, is saying he wants to have a conversation and want to be part of the solution because Americans are sick. Maybe I am too positive because I have taken the bait.

Ron, this is Snack Girl. I believe you should change your food in substantive ways so Americans can be supported in becoming more healthy. Don’t just remove additives and say you are solving the problem. Additives aren’t making people nearly as sick as people eating too many 740 calorie pecan rolls. Do you understand??

On a different note, this year I have been invited to 2 major food companies to give opinions on how to be healthier. This makes me think there is a true discussion happening at this moment in time.

Do you have anything to share with Ron? Am I crazy for even engaging in the discussion?

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First 20 Comments: ( See all 52 )

Once again you've reminded me of why I love you Snack Girl!

I definitely agree with you regarding companies changing small things and then looking for huge kudos. I am in full agreement regarding smaller portion sizes and lower prices. I personally ask for my dressing on the side wherever i go because most restaurants seem to put on at least 2X the amount of a standard serving of salad dressing However, I do think that Panera deserves props for their online menu--the calories are clearly marked as you view each menu item. I know that this is will be required by law shortly, but Panera is one of few companies that i have seen to get ahead of this so far. The calorie information really helps people who are looking at the menus and attempting to make a good choice to have a decent chance at doing so. They definitely have a lot more work to do, but they at least seem to be heading in the right direction.

You are so true!! I wish more companies would use whole grain for their bread and pasta. Also, smaller servings and more low fat dressings. However, I visit Panera alot since they are one of the few restaurants that I actually have choices. They have several soups and salads that aren't bad in WW points. I stay away from the bread and sandwiches.

I agree. I'm also appalled at the amount of sodium in foods in these places. It really limits my choices at restaurants. I'd appreciate having more low sodium choices in addition to low fat and whole grains.

Just went to Panera yesterday and was excited to see some healthy (and gluten-free) soups on the menu. I nearly gagged after the first spoonful. It was so salty I couldn't eat it! I like the fact that you can get an apple with your meal instead of chips. However, almost every time I've asked for that option I still find chips on my plate when I go to pick up the meal.

Wow--that was unexpected and awesome. Food additives aren't great, but they aren't as bad as people seem to think they are, and they aren't killing millions the way that obesity is. It's the same mindset that makes a person hop into their car and drive it to the protest about the air pollution from the factory down the street, when pollution from mobile sources--like that car--is responsible for 80% of the air pollution in our country. What's familiar (like a car) is always less scary than what you don't understand (like pollution controls on a factory). Making "additives" the bogeyman stops us from addressing fat and sugar, which are really killing people.

you aren't crazy in the least...ironically, I saw this commercial the other day and was thinking about Panera having nerve saying that.

I have family members who are lifetime WW that are obsessed with Panera and I always mutter to myself..."Why?"

I agree about having a 100% whole grain option, the salad dressing should ALWAYS be served on the side and never served on the salad (by a place claiming they are "healthy"), etc, etc.

Consumers should take a stand against false claims and I give you credit for not only doing so, but for hitting the nail on the head!

Removing chemical additives is a step in the right direction. President's Choice is doing the same. But yes, good food does not need half its weight to be composed of sugar or salt or fat or any combination of. Good food should be made to taste as it is, good food. What is good food? An apple. A light salad with no dressing, just lettuce and scallions and tomatoes with the lightest dusting of salt and pepper. A steak cooked to perfection and not coated in sauce or salt crusted or slathered in butter. Give me simple food that tastes REAL. We are so roped in to thinking sweet or salty or rich are flavours that we forget how a carrot tastes like straight from the garden. I weep for our taste buds' future, and our waist-lines, if we don't take the right steps soon.

Panera does still need a little work in the healthy dessert options (my kids disagree as they think it's perfect), but I think they are heads and shoulders above so many other quick-serve restaurants. I'd be happy if I could find other places to find a healthy salad and apple (that don't taste like chemicals-looking at you, McDonalds) so that I had more choices when we were on the road and need a quick stop.

Snack Girl I agree with you but like others have stated, It isn't the addictives I'm concerned about as much as the sodium, fat,and sugars put into the food. When I say fat I'm also talking about saturated fats and trans fat. Even with changes being made we have a long way to go yet.

Wouldn't it be nice to get French fries that were baked instead of fried? I know I would eat them!! Good topic today sanck girl.

I agree with you!! Removing "artificial" just gives the appearance of being health conscious. I ordered a fat-free latte at Panera's and requested a sugar-free flavoring and was told that they no longer had any artificial flavorings. I am not sure what they think their sugar-laden flavorings contain but I am quite sure the flavoring is the same. I also found it ironic that they still offered equal packets. I seldom order an entrée at Panera's due to the high sodium in most of their dishes.

YES! YES! YES! I don't see a "cranky old lady" here. I see an empowered change-maker.

Great post, Snack Girl. I would love smaller bakery items at Panera so I agree with that. I'm glad they removed the artificial ingredients but other changes could be made too (someone above mentioned the salty soups). I'm looking forward to seeing what you write after meeting with the two food companies.

Kudos to you once again Lisa!

And a comment from the veggie crowd...Hardly ANY vegetarian options! And it's not like I don't ask, EVERY time.. Some soups, but I stay away from restaurant soups due to sodium. Take the chicken out of the salad but still pay for chicken?? REALLY?? Greek salad? It does get boring. And on any salad when you ask for low fat dressing option, they go blank, sometimes ask manager, sometimes check on their phones. And anything real whole grain would be welcome. Finally, please DON'T call them fast food. There is usually a long wait even when you order in advance, the cost is much higher than fast food, yet you are expected to clean off your table??? Not me, not my guests either! I am over Panera.

I agree with you to the extent that removing additives isn't really getting to the heart of the problem. However, people can choose what they eat/order. You can ask for modifications (assuming they exist - and many do) and I think people need to generally take more responsibility for their own health. I don't think it's fair to put that on employees by having them ask if you want your food prepared in a healthier way or (fully) on companies, who exist to give consumers what they want. Slowly, healthier options and modifications are appearing because that is what consumers want. That said, sometimes you want fries or a giant cinnamon roll and I think that's okay.

Ok. So I eat at Panera regularly, but I have to disagree with you on one thing - the salads. My Panera never drowns its salads with dressing (I hate when restaurants do that) and, if you ask them to, they will put the dressing in a little container. I love Panera! :-)

You go Snack Girl! I see the same advertisements and realize how hypocritical these companies truly are. They think we will all hear their messages and go away with a feel-good attitude about their products. I see the calories when I walk into a Panera and try to pick items that are low fat, such as a salad with dressing on the side and perhaps half the cheese added, that sort of thing. I like COSI better than Panera, they have bigger salad portions (more of the green stuff in there where Panera gives you a big bowl with very little in there!) Speak for all of us Snack Girl - we are behind you 100%.

I must have a really GOOD Panera Eva K. Even a half of salad at our Panera is filled to the top with lettuce and extras. I was never a fan of COSI.

We all NEED an advocate like you to lead REAL change for healthier choices. If companies want to advertise "healthy" it shouldn't just be lip service. You aren't being a crazy lady. Thank you from many of us for rattling cages.

Wow! I thought I was the only one so
annoyed at these stupid Panera
commercials. I love Panera - but their
bakery items are over the top calorie
bombs. Ridiculous. So duplicitous to
advertise these commercials like they
do --- lost my respect for them.
Thank you for addressing this! Keep them

honest. And does anyone else eat salad like

they do on their commercials

with half of it hanging out of their mouths

like they just got rescued from some

reality tv show??

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