Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg

Panera CEO Challenges Burger Executives to Eat Their Food

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Ron Shaich, the outspoken leader of Panera Bread Co., is going after Happy Meals again.

Ron Shaich. Photographer: Peter Foley/Bloomberg

Ron Shaich. Photographer: Peter Foley/Bloomberg

The executive is renewing his crusade against kids’ food at the biggest U.S. burger restaurants -- McDonald’s Corp., Burger King and Wendy’s -- part of an effort to tout his own chain’s efforts to refine its menu. In his latest volley, Shaich called on McDonald’s Chief Executive Officer Steve Easterbrook to eat Happy Meals for a week.

“I’d like to see what he has to say about a week eating Chicken McNuggets, dipping them in that sauce,” Shaich said. “And he has to add fries and a sugary drink with every meal -- we’ll see what his blood sugar is at the end of the week.”

Shaich has been critical of fast-food competitors for including sugary drinks and french fries with kids meals, while also using toys to market the food to children. Last year, in announcing that Panera had removed artificial ingredients from its kids menu, he knocked McDonald’s for touting that it had pulled artificial preservatives from Chicken McNuggets, a step he argues didn’t go far enough.

McDonald’s recently swapped out the apple juice offered with its Happy Meals for an organic version that has less sugar. The company also noted that its popular McNuggets don’t have artificial flavors or colors.

“We’re proud of how we’re continuing to raise the bar on the food we serve,” the company said in a statement.

Earlier this year, Shaich sold Panera to JAB Holdings, an investment arm of Europe’s Reimann family, for $7.2 billion. But he remains in charge of the business -- and likes to use it a bullhorn for criticizing the industry.

This week, Panera began offering its menu items in smaller sizes for children, rather than having a special kids menu.

“I don’t know how they can eat that stuff they’re serving kids,” Shaich said. “We have to ask ourselves if we want to market to children based on gimmicks.”

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