Panera Bread is making progress on animal welfare targets for pigs, poultry, laying hens, and beef. As of this year, gestation crates for all pregnant sows in Panera’s supply chain have been phased out. All chicken and turkey for sandwiches and salads are now raised without antibiotics, according to the company, while 89 percent of beef cattle are grass-red and free-range.
“For more than a decade, we’ve been working to reduce antibiotic use and confinement across our supply chain,” says Panera founder and CEO Ron Shaich. “We are honored to have been recognized as one of the two best performing national restaurant companies in an independent report on antibiotics usage and transparency in September. While there is more work to be done, we are within reach of a menu without antibiotics and unnecessary confinement.”
The next step for the company will be to phase out cages for laying hens. Currently, only 21 percent of Panera’s shell eggs, hardboiled eggs, and liquid egg whites are cage-free, meaning that just 1 in 5 of laying hens in the company’s supply chain are raised in indoor barns with full range of movement. Panera hopes to push this target to 100 percent by 2020.
Furthermore, Panera will phase out antibiotics from its entire egg supply chain, which supplies the company with additional eggs to be used as ingredients in desserts, soufflés, and salad dressings. Including these additional uses, the company uses 120 million eggs annually. The overuse of antibiotics results in high costs to consumers who become sick from antibiotic-resistant bacteria. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), excess healthcare costs in the U.S. from antibiotic resistance are estimated at US$20 billion annually.
Panera hopes to act as a model for other businesses in the sector. “We are committed to transparency – which means sharing where we are and where we plan to go,” says Shaich. “We encourage other companies to join us by transparently sharing their progress.” Other companies that have good plans to phase out antibiotics include McDonald’s, Chipotle, Dunkin Donuts, and Chick-fil-A, according to a report by several public interest organizations.
Increasing public concern for animal welfare may be a driving factor behind the company’s actions. “Consumers want responsibly sourced food and Panera is listening. Businesses have the power to drive tremendous improvements for the way farm animals are treated and Panera is a leader in the tidal wave of change that is happening in the industry,” says Silia Smith, North American Regional Director for World Animal Protection.
Consumer comments go beyond animal welfare to include environmental and health concerns. “We know that guests are increasingly seeking plant-based proteins for personal health reasons and/or to reduce their environmental impact. To that end, we have been adding plant-based proteins like edamame and organic quinoa to our pantry of ingredients, so all guests can eat well the way they want,” says Sara Burnett, Director of Wellness and Food Policy for Panera Bread.