With winter now in full swing, one significant part of Panera Bread's (PNRA) business is being cleaned up in a bid to keep sales warm.
Panera Bread, which has over 1,900 restaurants in the U.S., announced on Wednesday that all of the soups on its menu are now free of artificial colors, flavors, sweeteners and preservatives. The new versions of Panera Bread's soups such as cream of chicken and wild rice and broccoli-cheddar now qualify as "clean," a buzzword in the food industry that means items are free of artificial ingredients.
"When you look at the difference, the new soups are made from things you would make soup out of at home," explained Panera Bread's head chef Dan Kish in an interview at a Panera location in New York City.
Soup is big business for Panera Bread, generating about 25% of annual sales, or $672 million, in 2015, based on Wall Street's projections for full-year results. The broccoli cheddar flavor alone, which is the chain's most popular, accounts for about one-third of the soup business, amounting to roughly 66 million servings out of the 200 million servings of soup Panera Bread sells each year. The company's soup menu rotates daily between 10 core soups, in addition to seasonal flavors such as turkey chili.
According to the company, soup sales continued to trend higher in 2015.
Panera's popular broccoli and cheddar soup.
Kish added, "It was about moving away from things such as vegetable oil to cook the onions and broccoli to simply using butter to make the broccoli and cheddar soup."
One of the ingredients Panera Bread had to remove in order to reformulate the broccoli and cheddar soup, said Kish, was sodium phosphate, a key ingredient in the cheddar cheese used in the soup. As a result, Panera Bread and its supplier had to develop a new cheddar cheese without the additive.