Posting beverage calorie counts on cups could cut into Panera's profits

No more sugar coating: Panera Bread gives customers the hard facts about what’s in their drinks. (Panera)

Last April, Panera Bread—the Missouri-based chain of 2,000 bakery-café fast casual restaurants—started putting calorie counts on its soda fountains. “People want real options and real transparency," CEO Ronald Schaich told TheStreet at the time, adding in a company statement, “With up to 75 grams of sugar, just one 20-ounce soft drink contains more than the recommended daily amount of added sugar.”

Now, the company has taken that sincerity one step further: Beginning this week, Panera is posting the number of calories and the sugar counts for each soft drink it sells on the cups that contain them, TheStreet reported this week.

That’s a move that could cut into the chain’s profits, but Panera has taken countermeasures: The move follows the introduction this past March of a line of low-sugar drinks at the restaurants including Iced Black Tea (0 grams of sugar), Plum Ginger Hibiscus Tea (0 grams of sugar), Prickly Pear Hibiscus Fresca (0 grams of sugar), Passion Papaya Green Tea (less than 35 grams of sugar), Blood Orange Lemonade (less than 35 grams of sugar) and Agave Lemonade (less than 35 grams of sugar).

Panera claims that its new beverages have no artificial sweeteners, preservatives, or artificial flavors or colors—and will sell for the same price as a traditional fountain drink.

Sara Burnett, director of wellness at Panera, told CNBC that the flavor combinations were chosen to offer Panera’s customers a balance between sweet and tart flavors. Also, many of the fruits are naturally sweet and do not require any added sweeteners.

However, there is no such sweetener for the company’s bottom line: Shaich says Panera's new craft-beverage line is more expensive to produce—meaning the drinks won't provide the same easy money, according to a report by Business Insider. Still, the company CEO believes the direction Panera is taking is the right long-term strategy as the chain continues to double down on healthy eating trends.

There already has been an 8% shift toward Panera's lower-sugar beverages over soft drinks since they were added to the menu 5 months ago, the company claims.

Shaich says that when customers know “The Sweet Facts”—as the labels on the cups convey—they want the healthier drinks; although, he said lightheartedly to Business Insider, the company posts teaspoons of sugar instead of grams because the "only people who know what grams are are drug dealers and Walter White."

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