Will Panera’s climate-friendly labels spur sales?

Discussion
Sources: Panera Bread
Oct 20, 2020
Tom Ryan

Panera Bread has become the first national restaurant chain to label menu items as climate friendly.

The chain partnered with World Resources Institute (WRI), the environmental think tank, to unveil “Cool Food Meal” labels for items having a footprint of less than 5.38 kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalent. That threshold is 38 percent lower than the average American meal, representing the size reduction required to meet 2030 targets established in the Paris Agreement.

Fifty-five percent of Panera’s offerings, including Chipotle Chicken Avocado Melt Broccoli Cheddar soup and other largely plant-based items, earn the badge.

Much in the way calorie counts help educate consumers, the new labels are designed to raise awareness about the link between food and greenhouse gas emissions and support informed choices.

“While many consumers are more aware of solutions such as driving less and recycling, the impact of your plate is real and just as important,” said Sara Burnett, Panera’s VP of food values, sustainability & public affairs, in a statement.

Panera pointed to recent Pew Research Center research that showed 63 percent of Americans believe climate change is currently affecting their local community to a great or some degree. Panera said approximately 25 percent of greenhouse gases comes from food production.

Surveys show environmental concerns are increasingly driving purchase decisions, but making environmentally-friendly choices around cleaning supplies and apparel appears easier than changing eating habits.

A survey from the International Food Information Council (IFIC) that came out earlier this year found six in ten U.S. consumers seek out environmentally friendly products in at least some parts of their lives, with food and beverages the top category for doing so.

When presented with a theoretical scenario in which a favorite product was less environmentally-friendly than an alternative with the same taste, however, only 35 percent would buy the more environmentally-friendly option. Twenty-nine percent said it would depend on the cost of the alternative, 13 percent would continue to buy the item that they’re most familiar with and 10 percent said their decision would depend on other factors.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: How do you rate the value of climate-friendly labels on food packaging? Will climate change increasingly impact food purchasing decisions?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"Panera must be keenly aware of the segment it is serving and the values they care about. From what I know it feels like their core customer base appreciates it. "
"Plant-based means vegan, and Panera would be well advised to update their menu labels accordingly to prevent alienating potential customers."
"For now only, this falls in my file of: “Great PR clickbait – limited impact.” Hopefully I’ll have to revise my rating sooner than later."

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21 Comments on "Will Panera’s climate-friendly labels spur sales?"


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Neil Saunders
BrainTrust

This is a great initiative that empowers consumers and allows them to make informed decisions. However, in all honesty, I think the majority of consumers will simply ignore the climate information and order based on what kind of food they want, the price, and other factors. But for those that want to make choices based on sustainability, the information is now there to help them do that.

Jeff Weidauer
BrainTrust

While I applaud the initiative Panera Bread is taking, the company is well ahead of the curve in terms of actual importance to consumers. Nevertheless, this is a good starting point and may lead to greater awareness and response at the consumer level.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

The more information people have the better decisions they make.

I personally would tend to lean towards “climate-friendly” products. But I am always concerned that these types of initiatives are a bit of a shell game. “Look here at our climate friendly offerings, but don’t look at the health value or the GMOs or the chemicals used in the process.”

Forgive my cynicism. I have been a marketing guy for 50 years and I am not sure most companies today are any less oriented toward selling their product by any means they can than they ever have been.

Chris Buecker
BrainTrust

Certainly with further climate change there will be a growing consumer group that will choose a company based on if it acts in a climate-friendly, ethical and socially friendly way. Companies that only pretend to act in this way, but in reality use it more as a marketing tool, will be punished by the consumer in the long run. WALK THE TALK will be THE success factor for retailers and brands.

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

It’s a start. We’re becoming more and more aware of other important factors that affect our world and the foods we eat, like sustainability and fair trade. How many of us think about climate change when ordering food? Panera has been on a campaign for a while now to get consumers to think differently about food choices. This is the next step.

Rodger Buyvoets
BrainTrust

As a company, we know that putting labels on products drives sales. This is our bread and butter which means we also have millions of data points to prove this. Small things such as labels or badges impact decision-making – even when it comes to purchasing food! The challenge, however, is that we need to trust that the food is better for the environment. Only truthful badges can impact sales positively in the long run. The way that “sugar free” or “organic” is being designed and promoted could also be beneficial for environmental labels.

Suresh Chaganti
BrainTrust

It is good to see environmental awareness making its way to consumer choices. Panera must be keenly aware of the segment it is serving and the values they care about. From what I know it feels like their core customer base appreciates it.

Ethical sourcing became an expected feature in coffee products. Ethical labor practices became mainstream with apparel and fashion. Food is even more personal. If the taste and price are not compromised, it can only increase sales.

Of course we should expect a level of cynicism, but that is par for the course.

Bindu Gupta
BrainTrust

Certainly a great initiative by Panera given the increasing greenhouse emissions. However I anticipate slow consumer adoption or change in food preferences JUST because of the “Cool Food Meal” label. There is a need to educate the consumers to help them steer towards making these choices. Maybe Panera can utilize their MyPanera rewards to offer bonus points to customers for purchasing these special label products in order to encourage adoption.

Tony Orlando
BrainTrust

The majority of folks want a great tasting product without the hype and posturing about climate change. Is it high quality and somewhat healthy? Then I’m good. Plant-based sandwiches are no substitute for a gourmet Italian or meatball sub with extra cheese, but Panera is going to sell some of these items if they taste delicious — otherwise it won’t work. We already have organic meats and gluten free options, and adding these new items to their list is fine. The consumer always has the final say.

Ryan Mathews
BrainTrust

In the long-term I think climate friendly labels will become more and more important. Right now though — with somewhere between 30 percent and 40 percent of the American public being climate/science deniers — I’m not sure it has any impact, and may even lose Panera a few fringe customers. So for now only, this falls in my file of: “Great PR clickbait – limited impact.” Hopefully I’ll have to revise my rating sooner than later.

Brett Busconi
Guest

Always ahead of the crowd, this is another shrewd initiative taken by Panera. They are looking to start a trend and see if this can create another differentiator for them.

This is also a play more aimed at Millennials and Generation Z, which will pay off even more with time.

Shep Hyken
BrainTrust

Climate-friendly is a big deal to some consumers. And, when a brand aligns that “cause” (and others) with their customers’ values, then there is winning combination that creates an opportunity to build a stronger relationship that leads to repeat business and even loyalty.

Jeff Sward
BrainTrust

I don’t always understand the details of the science behind this kind of initiative, and I don’t have to. I trust and believe that their motives are sound and that they are trying to bake sensitivity to climate change into their brand promise. That and the fact that their food is delicious makes for a pretty good combination.

Doug Garnett
BrainTrust

While we must sort out good ways for society to respond to climate change, this seems gratuitous. Within six months my bet is that Panera customers won’t know why the labels are there — and initially only a tiny few will know anyway.

The promotion is part of my concern. This is a serious action — why does the label look cartoonish? It seems out of sync with the goal of the move and with the best ways to communicate what they are doing.

In other words, I expect this will be a gimmick soon lost in confusion.

Jasmine Glasheen
BrainTrust

Climate-friendly labels are great. However, as a vegan who recently received a gift card to Panera, I was shocked to realize that their “plant-based” meal selection still contained eggs and dairy. I wouldn’t eat there again.

Plant-based means vegan, and Panera would be well advised to update their menu labels accordingly to prevent alienating potential customers.

Brett Busconi
Guest

I could not find any source(s) to define Plant Based as being vegan, or even vegetarian. I think that your definition is based on assumption and not fact. It could be that Panera is working on others having that same assumption, so I am not saying that they would not do better to be more clear.

From Harvard Medical School: What is a plant-based diet and why should you try it? “Plant-based or plant-forward eating patterns focus on foods primarily from plants. This includes not only fruits and vegetables, but also nuts, seeds, oils, whole grains, legumes, and beans. It doesn’t mean that you are vegetarian or vegan and never eat meat or dairy. Rather, you are proportionately choosing more of your foods from plant sources.”

Jasmine Glasheen
BrainTrust

Thanks for your thoughts, Brett. While the Harvard blog’s definition of “plant-based” may not exclude animal products, the top articles on any Google search point to the widely-accepted definition of “plant-based” as entirely vegan. See the two top articles in my quick Google search: https://eatbychloe.com/2015/06/plant-based-vs-vegan/ https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5466934/.

Part of what we must do as retailers and retail-adjacent business owners is to look beyond our own confirmation bias to understand the standards of the communities that we serve. When we do our research, we are better able to tap into the mindset of other cultures. In this case, it means understanding that “plant-based” means “vegan” to most of those concerned with the definition.

Brett Busconi
Guest

Thanks Jasmine, I appreciate your insight and perspective on this topic.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest

I think this is entirely the right approach — offering information (I’m thinking/hoping even Milton Freidman would approve!) — but I can’t help but think, “then what…?” Then what if “too many” people still order double meat instead of double sprouts? Or vegan activists denounce cheese as not being “Earth-friendly”?

So I applaud the move, but I’m also wary of that side-order of unintended consequences that might come with it.

Camille P. Schuster, PhD.
BrainTrust

The idea is great. These labels are horrible. When I saw the term climate-friendly, I thought the designation identified foods that spoil in the heat or need to be refrigerated. I did not get the connection to carbon dioxide levels until I read the explanation. Then I went back to look at the actual label. It says “Cool Food Meal.” Then I was more confused — is this a meal for cool weather, that needs to be served cold which is great for hot weather, or it just new, novel, or fun? The explanation is great. The idea is “cool,” but the labels and words need a much clearer explanation.

storewanderer
Guest
1 month 7 days ago

Panera has lost its way and this program’s hilarious icons which clutter up the product pages and do not clearly depict their message are more evidence of that. Expansion has slowed (locations have been “coming soon” to my market for 3+ years supposedly even some permits filed yet no locations are operating), at least one location in Northern California has closed in recent months (Stockton along I-5) has closed in recent months, and customers are finding better food elsewhere or realized they can microwave frozen food and get the same quality as Panera offers.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"Panera must be keenly aware of the segment it is serving and the values they care about. From what I know it feels like their core customer base appreciates it. "
"Plant-based means vegan, and Panera would be well advised to update their menu labels accordingly to prevent alienating potential customers."
"For now only, this falls in my file of: “Great PR clickbait – limited impact.” Hopefully I’ll have to revise my rating sooner than later."

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