Panera Bread Co. intends to remove artificial additives and preservatives from its menu by the end of 2016, the company said Tuesday.

The St. Louis-based bakery-café chain, with more than 1,800 units, issued a comprehensive food policy that also called for making its menu more transparent in its ingredients and creating a positive impact on the food system.

The company said it intends its food policy to be a roadmap for improvement and accountability.

“Panera was founded on the belief that quick food could be quality food,” said Ron Shaich, Panera’s founder, chairman and chief executive, in a statement. “As we continue to make conscious choices about the food we source and serve, we realized it’s also important to share what we’ve accomplished and where we’re going.”

The company said it was advocating “clean food” and was committed to serving foods without added monosodium glutamate (MSG) or artificial trans fats. Panera said the artificial additives it would remove include colors, flavors, sweeteners and preservatives.

“We believe simpler is better,” said Scott Davis, Panera’s chief concept officer, who also said today’s food system is “broken.”

“We have a long journey ahead,” Davis said, “but we’re working closely with the nutrition community, industry experts, farmers, suppliers and others to make a difference.”

Erik Olson, senior strategic director for health and food at the advocacy group Natural Resources Defense Council, said that Panera’s current policy on antibiotics has helped make it an industry leader.

“The company has been purchasing chicken raised without antibiotics for more than a decade, and over the years expanded to roasted turkey, ham, and sausage,” Olson said in a statement. “We support their newest commitment to remove artificial additives.”

Legal consultants cautioned that the claims of “nothing artificial” pose a risk for food companies.

Liv Kiser, a commercial litigator and co-chair of law firm Loeb & Loeb LLC’s health and wellness marketing compliance task force, said in a statement Tuesday that “food companies labeling their products as ‘nothing artificial’ have been sued in class action lawsuits in which courts have held the phrase unambiguously means the product contains no artificial or synthetic ingredients, and further, that such a representation (if false) is sufficiently material to certify a class.”

Kiser said brands must ensure their food product policies, once stated, are implemented.

“This will require them to perform continual oversight, not only of their own operations, but of their supply chains as well,” Kiser said.

In addition, she added, brands must be clear in advertising, websites and point-of-purchase displays about what they are promising.

Panera has bakery-cafés in 45 states and in Ontario, Canada, under the Panera Bread, Saint Louis Bread Co. and Paradise Bakery & Café brands.

Contact Ron Ruggless at
Follow him on Twitter: @RonRuggless