Commentary

Try Eating What You Serve Kids, Panera Challenges Competitors

In a Twitter video campaign that launched yesterday, Panera Bread founder and CEO Ron Shaich challenges his fast-food competitors to eat the meals they are peddling to children — with “cheap toys” as enticements — for a week. Calling out @McDonalds, @BurgerKing and @Wendy specifically, he disparages pizza, nuggets, fries and sugar-laced drinks while promoting Panera’s “new approach. Kids can choose from almost our entire menu in smaller sizes.”

All told, Panera is offering upwards of 250 combinations from more than 40 entrees that can be paired with healthy treats such as apples or squeezable yogurt. “Together, let’s change the way we feed our kids,” is the tagline; it carries a #KidsMenuChallenge hashtag. 

“Shaich posed the challenge to [Business Insider’s Kate Walsh] thusly: ‘Would you really order it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, three meals a day for seven days?’ (Which begs the question, should kids really eat all three meals at a fast food chain in the first place?), writesFood & Wine’s Devon Walsh. 

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“Shiach added, ‘What we're trying to do is, in the middle of the night, trying to get these people to think to themselves — is what we're doing really for the good of the kids?”

And then, presumably, enter into a dialogue. 

“What we are trying to do is create a discussion,” Shaich tellsThe Street’s Brian Sozzi in an interview. “What is the right thing to be doing as leaders and parents? I have a 14-year-old daughter that eats at Panera all the time. I can live perfectly well on three meals a day, seven days a week from the Panera menu. My challenge to peers is whether they can say the same thing. If they can't live off their kids menu, then they should consider reevaluating what they are serving.”

But all of this is being done with the highest of intentions.

“These are people I like and they are my friends. The whole purpose of this is just to raise the issue. My greatest wish is not to embarrass people, it is if they actually take this on this challenge they will know what they feel like. They will know what nutrition is going into their bodies…, ” Shaich continues.

“As a parent, I’m proud that I could eat off the Panera kids menu and still enjoy delicious and wholesome meals,” he says in the video. 

The challenge comes “a year after Panera issued its ‘Kids Meal Promise’ to offer items with no artificial flavors, preservatives, sweeteners or colors and no high-sugar drinks,” reports Ron Ruggless for Nation’s Restaurant News.

“The five tenets of the Kids Meal Promise are to eliminate artificial ingredients, gimmicks and sugary drinks and provide nutritious, wholesome options,” according to Sustainable Brands, citing a statement by Sara Burnett, director of wellness and food policy at Panera Bread, in the release announcing the challange:

“At Panera, we say let kids be picky — our cafes should offer the same choices and transparency to children as we do to adults. We’re not saying a child will suddenly order a salad over mac & cheese — but kids can surprise you when they have positive options to choose from. We believe that kids should have choice and furthermore that we should not bundle their entrees with fries and sugary drinks that make the combination a nutritional nightmare. Finally, we believe we should not induce the consumption of these nutritionally empty meals by marketing a kids meal with toys and cartoon characters.” 

JAB Holding Co. earlier this year took Panera private in a $7.5 billion deal, NRN’s Ruggless reminds us. It has more than 2,000 bakery-cafes in 46 states and in Ontario, Canada, operating under the Panera, Saint Louis Bread Co. and Paradise Bakery & Café names.

“Burger King and Wendy’s did not respond to requests for comment about Panera’s challenge,” reports Lisa Brown for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

“In an email to the Post-Dispatch, McDonald’s spokeswoman Andrea Abate said the chain is proud of how it’s ‘continuing to raise the bar on the food we serve at McDonald’s. Our recent announcement that we’re adding Honest Kids Juice Drink to our Happy Meals joins other positive changes we have made, such as removing artificial preservatives from Chicken McNuggets, which also don’t have artificial colors or flavors.’” 

Well, that’s about as much “discussion” as the average parent gets out of the average 14-year-old.

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