Panera Bread, the fast-casual restaurant chain, said Wednesday it will start using “clean" bacon on sandwiches and salads, heightening its efforts to use healthier ingredients amid stiff competition to attract customers who seek natural foods.
The new bacon is “free of artificial preservatives, flavors, sweeteners and colors from artificial sources prohibited by the company's so-called "No-No List," it said. It is cured with celery powder in place of other additives used as curing agents, such as sodium nitrite. No conventional liquid smoke or artificial flavor enhancements will be used.
“Panera’s clean bacon is made with six simple ingredients: pork, water, sea salt, sugar, celery powder and thyme extract,” it said.
It is also sourced from pigs that meet “Panera’s animal welfare standards for reduced confinement and antibiotics," the St. Louis-based company said. Since 2015, Panera’s bacon has been sourced from pigs raised on a vegetarian diet, without antibiotics or gestation crates for pregnant sows, it said.
Panera's No-No List, introduced last year, includes more than 150 ingredients — from BHT to maltodextrin to sulfur dioxide — that Panera removed from its foods. It also began selling last year salads with "clean" salad dressings, made without artificial sweeteners, colors, flavors and preservatives.
Pieces of bacon that are broken during trimming and cutting will be used for salads, minimizing waste of the premium cuts. While Panera has been using real smoke, it says it will develop "a deeper, more complex bacon flavor for its clean bacon by applying extra applewood smoke." The new bacon is also 25% thicker than before, it said.
“As we approached the challenge of remaking bacon without artificial curing agents and preservatives, we took another step back to think about bacon as it should be: the perfect slice," head chef Dan Kish said in a statement. "My food philosophy is that if you’re going to truly enjoy an indulgence, like salty, smoky bacon, it should be the best you can get.”