NEW YORK — Panera says it will remove artificial colors, flavors, sweeteners and preservatives from its food by 2016, a reflection of the growing distaste people are showing for such ingredients.
The chain of bakery cafes, which has about 1,800 U.S. locations, is making the pledge as part of a "Food Policy" it is unveiling Tuesday that outlines its commitment to "clean" and "simple" ingredients.
The announcement comes at a time when Panera Bread Co. is facing slowing sales growth and working to jump-start its business through a variety of means, such as revamping the sometimes confusing way people order and get food, and switching baking hours to the daytime to create a homier feel in cafes.
The unveiling of Panera's sweeping "Food Policy" also underscores how positioning foods as natural has become a marketing advantage, regardless of whether it adds any nutritional benefits. Part of the attraction for customers is that they feel better about what they're eating, sometimes because they don't feel as guilty about how many calories they're consuming.
Chipotle, for instance, has gained in popularity in part by portraying itself as a more wholesome alternative to traditional fast-food chains like McDonald's. Even Subway recently said it would stop using azodicarbonamide in its breads. The ingredient was dubbed the "yoga mat" chemical after a petition by Vani Hari, who runs FoodBabe.com, noted it was used to make yoga mats.