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Panera Launches Zero-Added Sugar Beverages, Challenges Industry to Be More Transparent

Image Credit: Panera Bread

Transparency is increasingly becoming a food industry standard, with more and more brands sharing information regarding supply chain and nutritional content with consumers. This new wave of transparency is also joined by a greater focus on creating products that are made with “clean” ingredients derived from natural sources. Since the launch of its “Food as It Should Be” campaign back in 2014, Panera Bread has been sharing its journey towards serving only “100% clean” food. In January, the restaurant chain announced that it had achieved its goal of eliminating artificial additives from its menu. Building on its success, the company today launched a new series of “100% clean,” non-carbonated craft beverages made with no artificial sweeteners, preservatives, flavors or colors from artificial sources.

The new teas, lemonades and frescas will roll out in bakery-cafes on April 5 and will be joined by signage positing the calories and added sugar in each beverage. The move makes Panera the first national restaurant company to post this nutritional information at the point of pour. Panera CEO Ron Shaich is urging others in the industry to do the same.

“With up to 75 grams of sugar, just one 20-oz. soft drink contains more than the recommended daily amount of added sugar,” Shaich said. “While we won’t tell people what they should drink, we want to provide real options and real transparency — and we’re challenging the industry to join us.”

Sugary, chemical-laden beverages are one of the many factors contributing to obesity, diabetes and heart disease. The addition of new craft beverages to Panera’s menu provides guests with a broader range of clean options, from moderate to no added sugar. In 2010, Panera began posting calories on its menu boards and posting added sugar in beverages is the next step in the company’s progressive effort to improve transparency.

“We believe people deserve to know exactly what’s in their drink so they can make the best choice for their lifestyle,” said Sara Burnett, Director of Wellnes at Panera. “We know more and more guests are looking to reduce their added sugar consumption and we’re providing an increased number of real, clean options with our new teas, lemonades and frescas.”

The new line of drinks launches this month in select cities and will become available nationwide by September. Made fresh daily and with less sugar than current drink offerings, the new beverages offer a range of sweetness levels:

  • Iced Black Tea and Plum Ginger Hibiscus Tea are unsweetened, with 0g added sugar
  • Prickly Pear Hibiscus Fresca is lightly sweetened with fruit juice, with 0g added sugar
  • Passion Papaya Green Tea, Blood Orange Lemonade and Agave Lemonade contain less than 35g of added sugar per 20 oz. cup

“We know guests are looking for enticing and seasonal flavors that will complement their meal,” said Tom Sadler, Panera's VP of Product Development. “The beverage line was crafted with unique seasonal ingredients to offer new exciting flavors with various sweetness levels — from Blood Orange to Prickly Pear and more.”

The new beverages are also free from all artificial sweeteners, preservatives, flavors or colors from artificial sources listed on the company’s No No List, which is inclusive of 96 separate ingredients and additive classes.

The move has so far been well-received by the wider community, which has applauded Panera for providing an easy way for consumers to make healthier, better-informed choices.

“If we expect consumers to make healthy choices, we need to make those healthy choices available and equip the consumer with information. Panera’s action of today is a great step in the right direction,” said Ricardo J. Salvador, Director and Senior Scientist  for the Union of Concerned Scientists' Food & Environment Program.

“Soda and other sugary drinks promote diabetes, heart disease, obesity and other health problems. Good for Panera for getting creative with new, lower-sugar drinks and for giving people more information at soda fountains, where it will be maximally useful,” said Margo G. Wootan, Director of Nutrition Policy for the Center for Science and Public Interest.


Libby MacCarthy is an Editorial Assistant at Sustainable Brands, based in Maine and France. She is a former urban planner specializing in sustainable cities, and an urban farming and film photography enthusiast. She holds a BA in Environment, Society and… [Read more about Libby MacCarthy]