Panera Bread is following a restaurant and food business trend in moving away from artificial preservatives, flavors and colors. “We’re trying to draw a line in the sand in the industry so that consumers have an easy way to know what’s in the food they buy,” says Ron Shaich, Panera CEO, according to the New York Times. Panera said earlier it would make some changes, but the recent announcement puts a 2016 completion date on the change.
Today food engineers can make a chemical taste like anything, producing things like smoke flavor which convinces taste buds that the meat you’re eating came right from the grill. The great flavor-making chemists today are like 18th century perfumers, master technicians who work on french fries and barbecue sauce instead of perfume. But their moment in the sun may be nearing an end. Customers are demanding natural flavors and antibiotic-free meat — and the competition in the restaurant and food business is intense. McDonald’s recent reputation dip is a cautionary tale for everyone in the industry. Even Kraft said it would remove the artificial color that makes its world famous mac and cheese its orange-yellow hue, a color that’s disturbingly hard to wipe off a child’s face. Panera already has a strong reputation — and this move should only enhance it. It’s interesting to note how it’s not easy to quit — Panera wants to go cold turkey on its turkey, but can’t get it done until 2016.