Panera Bread has been trying to stay out front when it comes to cleaning up its menu and using all-natural ingredients in its fresh-but-fast food. The latest item slated for a shake-up? Bacon.
The St. Louis-based company recently announced that its sandwiches and salads will use only "clean" bacon, which they say is thicker and made from just six ingredients: pork, water, sea salt, sugar, celery powder and thyme extract.
But "clean" bacon isn't a defined, official type of bacon. And it has nothing to do with the trend of clean eating. It's just a marketing spin, and the label may be confusing to some consumers. As Mic reports:
"Fear sells and marketers know it," Alison Van Eenennaam, professor of animal genomics and biotechnology at UC Davis who has studied livestock for 30 years, said in an email. She noted the decision to serve and market "clean" bacon implies that other forms of meat are "dirty," which she says isn't true.
So-called clean bacon has just as many tasty calories and smoky, delicious fat as regular bacon. So while it's not as processed, it's still not technically good for you. "Bacon will be same nutrient-wise," Van Eenennaam told Mic.
But Sara Burnett, Panera’s director of wellness and food policy, tells Fortune that the company isn't trying to imply bacon is healthy. “On the nutrition side of things, our position has been and will continue to be that there’s a place for everyday foods,” she says, “but also a place in everyone’s life for a little bit of indulgence.”
An ongoing effort
Panera has committed to getting rid of artificial ingredients — preservatives, sweeteners, flavorings and colors listed on the company's so-called "No No List" — by the end of 2016. And it boasts that the chicken and pork used in Panera dishes have never been fed antibiotics.
In its new "clean" bacon, the celery powder is a natural curing agent, so there's no need for additives like sodium nitrite, sodium phosphate or sodium erythorbate. There are no artificial flavors added, and the bacon is sourced "from pigs raised on a vegetarian diet, without antibiotics or gestation crates for pregnant sows," Panera says. And the chain boasts that it's the first national restaurant company to make this move.
Apparently there's little need for preservatives, as bacon doesn't sit at Panera's restaurants for very long. In 2015, it served 2 million pounds — or 115 million slices — of bacon. Since it's such a popular product, the company says it took about a year to examine everything from the brine to the smokiness to the way its stored.