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Panera axing artificial ingredients, extra sweeteners from kids menu

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 (AP File Photo)

Panera Bread is continuing to demystify its menu by removing artificial ingredients and added sweeteners from its kids menu next month.

The chain, which operates more than 2,000 locations, also announced a “Kids Meal Promise” saying that it won’t encourage children to drink soda, eat french fries or use toys to push its meals.

Panera’s founder and CEO Ron Shaich also took a dig at how major fast food chains tend to market to children.

“Frankly, the typical restaurant industry kids meal doesn’t serve our kids well,” Shaich said in a company statement. “We shouldn’t be marketing to kids. Toys and games distract from honest food choices. They come with poor options like fries and sugary beverages. This is not food as it should be.”

The announcement also comes amid the launch of a new marketing campaign. PaneraKids.com features information about the chain’s new initiative and nutritional info about each food item. Ironically the chain promises “No cartoon characters” as a tactic to market to kids but the website has several cartoons inspired by real kids sharing their thoughts on “real food.”

In May 2015, Panera announced a major initiative to purge 150 of the 460 total ingredients on its menu in an effort to remove a significant amount of artificial colors, flavors, sweeteners and preservatives by the end of this year. In the second quarter of 2016, the fast casual chain saw a 2.3 percent increase in same store sales compared to the same time last year, according to Nation's Restaurant News.

Other chains have since followed suit with various pledges to remove artificial ingredients, and move toward antibiotic-free meats or cage-free chickens. Most recently, McDonald’s, the world’s largest restaurant chain by sales volume, said it’s cutting high-fructose corn syrup from its buns and removing artificial preservatives from Chicken McNuggets-- its most popular menu item, according to Bloomberg.

But Shaich says removing one or two ingredients is basically a superficial fix to a much larger problem in the fast food industry.

“If you’re taking one single ingredient and trying to use that to create a halo across your menu, that seems inauthentic to us and confusing to people,” Shaich told Bloomberg. “We’re paying the price to do it right. If you want the halo without doing it right, that’s wrong.”

Instead of fries, Panera’s kids meals have sides such as organic yogurt, apples and sprouted-grain rolls. Drinks options include water, organic milk and juice.  

The changes to Panera’s kids menu go into effect Sept. 7.