Bacon is more popular than ever with flavoring being added to all kinds of products and strips of the meat being added to dishes at restaurants at all price points. But, Panera Bread has thrown down the gauntlet before other national restaurant chains with an announcement Wednesday, Sept. 21., that they will only sell clean slabs of meat. Panera claims that their diners will be getting “better bacon” in the future. What does that mean?
Panera announced that their restaurants are only going to serve “clean bacon” now. Odds are that most diners do not know (or presumably) care if they are eating better bacon or how the pigs were treated. If they did, they probably would not be getting a sandwich or salad with bacon in it. However, the St. Louis-based chain is making a change as part of its initiative to offer healthier fare that is devoid of artificial preservatives, fake flavoring, chemical sweeteners and artificial coloring.
“Clean bacon is an example of how you can amplify when you simplify,” Panera founder and chief executive Ron Shaich is quoted in the company’s press release. “By removing artificial additives, we made a switch to better ingredients, better texture and, ultimately, better flavor. We’re not just offering clean bacon; it’s bacon that has been elevated in every way.”
As far as bringing home the bacon goes, this means Panera is no longer using artificial additives to cure and preserve their pork slices. Instead of using more common chemicals like sodium phosphate, sodium nitrite, and sodium erythorbate, the fast casual chain will be using celery powder. Their bacon will be herb brined using sugar, sea salt and thyme. They will not be using liquid smoke, which is a conventional means of artificially enhancing flavor, but will use real applewood smoke.
The restaurant chain buys a lot of bacon. They served 2 million pounds, which is the equivalent of over 115 million bacon slices, on its menu items in 2015. Panera claims that they are the first national fast casual or fast food chain in the industry to change their bacon-related sourcing, curing and cooking practices. They also report that the move has been in development for more than a year.
Going forward, Panera promises that the new “better” bacon slices they sell in their dining establishments will be 25 percent thicker than they used to be. They will also be served crisper (the staff will no longer refrigerate and reheat slices).
Lastly, the 30-year-old fast casual chain, which operates more than 2,000 bakery-cafes in the U.S. and Canada, is promising that animal welfare is also being considered in their meat sourcing and has been since 2015. The firm reported that their bacon now comes from pigs raised on a vegetarian diet (to be fed to North Americans who are not on a vegetarian or pork eschewing diet!). The pigs are also reportedly antibiotic-free.
Panera’s move to improve the quality of their ingredients is laudable. However, it seems unlikely that diners who want to bring home sandwiches or other dishes with bacon are that interested in “clean” or “healthier” food. But, if it tastes better … that is a different story.
Written and Edited by Dyanne Weiss
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Photo courtesy of cyclonebill’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons license.