Panera Bread Labels 'Climate-Friendly' Menu Items

Anna Wolfe
Senior Editor, Restaurants
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a bowl of salad
Panera partners with World Resources Institute to ID entrees with low climate impact via Cool Food Meals.

In collaboration with World Resources Institute (WRI), Panera is labeling climate-friendly "Cool Food Meals" on its menu—those meals that have a low impact on the climate. 

The fast casual brand's move comes as six in 10 Americans say they have seen impacts from climate change in their own communities, but many don't know what they can do to help, according to Pew Research

Approximately 25% of greenhouse gases are created from food production — what you choose to eat can help make a real difference, says Panera.

Sustainability Matters 

Sustainability took a backseat during the height of the pandemic. According to HT’s 2020 Customer Engagement Technology Survey, few were focused on recycling and environmental sustainability in 2020, but operators cannot and should not forget the importance of the environment to their guests and to the overall future of the hospitality industry.   

More than half of Panera entrees are Cool Food Meals—including guest favorites like the Chipotle Chicken Avocado Melt, 10 Vegetable Soup, Fuji Apple Chicken Salad – and Broccoli Cheddar Soup.

Daily Carbon Footprint

Just like recommended calories per day, WRI has established a maximum recommended daily carbon footprint for a person's diet, which is 38% smaller than the current average.  This is in line with what WRI research finds is needed by 2030 to help mitigate the worst impacts of climate change. And, just as Panera was the first to label calories on its menu, the company is now the first to label low carbon entrees (Cool Food Meals as designated by WRI) — menu items that have a low impact on the climate and can help keep you below your daily limit.

"At Panera, we are passionate about keeping the customer at the heart of everything we do, and that includes giving our guests choices to lower their impact on climate change through the food they eat in our bakery-cafes. With 55% of Panera entrees certified as Cool Food Meals, our guests have many options for delicious food with a lower carbon footprint, from salads to soups to sandwiches," said Niren Chaudhary, Chief Executive Officer, Panera Bread.   "Understanding the impact of what we eat on the environment is one way we can all take a small step toward combatting climate change — so as a food company, we feel a strong responsibility to share this information and empower our guests to help make a difference."

In general, plant-based foods have a lower impact on the environment than meals with meat and dairy ingredients.  If, each year, every person in the U.S. swapped in just 10 Chipotle Chicken Avocado Melt sandwiches with chips for 10 quarter-pound burgers with fries, it would reduce emissions by 77 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent; this is equivalent to taking more than 16 million passenger vehicles off the road for a year, says Panera.

"By labeling Cool Food Meal menu items, we hope to educate our guests on sustainable options and help them understand the correlation between their meals and the climate. While many consumers are more aware of solutions such as driving less and recycling – the impact of your plate is real and just as important," said Sara Burnett, VP of Food Values, Sustainability & Public Affairs, Panera Bread.