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Clearing up ‘Clean’ Foods


After years of steady menu changes, the Panera bakery-café chain announced in January that its “entire U.S. food menu and portfolio of Panera at Home products are now free from all artificial flavors, preservatives, sweeteners, and colors from artificial sources as defined by the company’s No No List,” which includes 96 separate ingredients and additive classes.

The company explained that it reached the milestone by “reviewing more than 450 ingredients delving several levels into the supply chain to ensure the removal of all artificial flavors, preservatives, sweeteners and colors from artificial sources; reformulating 122 ingredients, resulting in changes to the majority of Panera’s bakery-café recipes; partnering with more than 300 food vendors on the clean food journey to innovate solutions; and ranging from ingredient replacements to rethinking how foods are prepared.”

Such widespread sourcing changes could be daunting, but part of Panera’s success lies in how the company developed its own definition of “clean food,” an otherwise unclear term that could confuse consumers just as “natural” and “green” can do. In compiling its own “No No List,” Panera set clear boundaries for what consumers will and will not find in their food. Panera also used its cleanup mission as an opportunity to educate consumers about ingredients, additives and preservatives.

Unlike a specific pledge to go totally organic, for example, a “No No List” is flexible and allows food providers of any size and scope to start small and keep building as more sources become available and as priorities shift. For some starting points, the Center for Science in the Public Interest’s surveys find that most consumers define clean label as being free from artificial ingredients, having natural/organic claims, having no pesticides/chemicals/toxins, free from allergens, having no GMOs, being minimally processed and having a simple/short ingredient list.

Grocerant-Ready Ideas:

  • Starting with existing ingredients to highlight what’s not on the menu
  • Using expertise from trusted sources to build a bigger list of clean ingredients
  • Customer education on why certain ingredients are avoided
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