Panera Opens New Front in All-Natural Battle With Clean Drinks

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Panera Bread Co. is making more of its beverages free of artificial flavors, colors, sweeteners and preservatives, going a step beyond rivals as restaurants vie to offer more “clean” products.

“We drew a line in the sand specifically for food, and beverages are a natural extension of those goals,” said Dan Kish, senior vice president of food at the St. Louis-based company.

Restaurant chains are increasing efforts to appeal to consumers seeking healthier and more natural food, with Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. removing all genetically modified organisms from its food menu and Papa John’s International Inc. working to eliminate additives from its pizzas.

Panera’s new beverages, which include a pumpkin spice latte, bottled BluePrint juices and Joia sodas, push the bakery chain beyond its original pledge to remove artificial additives from its food by 2016.

While Panera is increasing its bottled offerings, the company hasn’t made changes to what may be the final frontier for clean beverages: fountain drinks.

“Some beverages are easier than others,” Kish said. “We look at bottled beverages almost like a fashion item” while fountain drinks are more permanent. Still the company is exploring ways to offer more natural sodas, he said.