Updated to correct month when Panera released its list of ingredients it's planning to eliminate from its menu.
NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Panera Bread (PNRA) founder and CEO Ron Shaich, who many industry observers regard as the founding father of fast casual dining, has been at the forefront of moving towards healthier, natural food -- a goal he's still pursuing.
"In the last year, two years we have all grown to learn that simpler, less processed food is better for you," Shaich said.
In May, Panera Bread lifted the veil on what it calls its "No No List," pictured below. The list issues a self-imposed ban on more than 150 ingredients, including artificial colors, flavors, sweeteners and preservatives, that the company plans to eliminate from its menu by 2016.
About 85% of the ingredients on Panera's bakery-cafe food menu are in test or have rolled out nationally without these artificial additives. Beginning in September, all of the company's flatbreads will feature 15 grams of whole grain in each serving.
It wasn't too long before many other food retailers had followed suit with similar pledges, with Subway and Yum Brands' (YUM) Taco Bell and Pizza Hut all announcing they would be removing artificial colors and flavors from their food.
Wall Street has historically rewarded Shaich's forward thinking on the menu and on dining more broadly, with Panera Bread shares rising 212% over the past ten years, compared with the 68% gain by the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the 69% increase for the S&P 500. Shaich ran the company from 1993 to 2010, and then returned to run the company again in 2013.
But investors have not been too kind to Panera Bread lately, with many wondering when some of the investments being made by Shaich in "clean" ingredients and new ordering technology will show up in sales and profits. Not helping matters has been the rise in competing fast casual chains such as Chipotle (CMG), whose popularity has cut into Panera's share during lunch and dinner.
In the past two years, Panera shares have actually fallen by 2.9%. First quarter same-restaurant sales rose 1.5%, while earnings per share excluding one-time items fell 9% year over year. To its credit, Panera has notched four straight quarters of growth in the number of transactions, suggesting people are starting to take notice of new menu items and ordering capabilities.