Innovations in Healthier Convenience Food

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Season 1, Episode 22 Guest: Sara Burnett

Panera Bread Inc has been a leader in accommodating those who desire a healthier version of convenience food. They have also heavily invested in their tech platform allowing modification of food orders to personal preference AND making the updated nutrition facts available.

Further, Panera has been a cutting edge leader in having third party assessment for their food’s carbon impact on the environment with their “Cool Foods” program. 25%+ of global greenhouse gases are from food and food production. Years ago, Panera discussed climate change and what useful steps they could take to help reduce their carbon footprint.

They partnered with World Resources Institute, measured the carbon footprint of a plate of food and asked: what is the target for a low carbon impact meal? They started putting a “Cool Foods” badge on all the low carbon footprint foods on their menu.

With over 2100 restaurants in 47 states, Panera makes it practical to eat conveniently and healthily almost everywhere in the United States (and they also have a presence in Canada). This is not to say that they don’t serve more indulgent, riskier foods. But that is reality and they certainly don’t skimp out on offering several, VERY healthy options (especially considering their ability to modify orders GREATLY to personal preferences using their app) for those of us plant rich, less processed/refined food seekers.

Sara Burnett, Panera’s VP of Food Beliefs, Sustainability and PR, and self-described Flexitarian, comes from a science background. With her combined passion for food, it’s not surprising that she helped team Panera come to provide antibiotic-free chicken, and she makes sure their food providers/farmers treat their animals as humanely (spacing, fresh air) as possible.

Key Messages on Panera’s Innovations in Healthier Convenience Food:

  • Panera’s philosophy is to balance your personal health with planetary health.
  • Panera actually built a supply chain to support the healthiest and most delicious foods for their guests.
  • Panera’s employees kept serving the public through the pandemic, addressing shifts in consumer food habits.
  • They created an app and kiosk with digital personalization features so guests can make the food choices their own.
  • When guests change their order the app changes the nutrition facts in real time so they can see the change.
  • Panera changes their menu out 5 times a year to introduce new bold and exciting flavors from around the world.

Head shot of Sara Burnett, VP of Food Beliefs at Panera Bread Inc.

Sara Burnett, VP of Food Beliefs, Sustainability and PR at Panera Bread Inc.

Sara Burnett serves as the Director of Wellness and Food Policy at Panera where she manages strategy for a wide range of issues including nutrition, sustainability and societal impact.

She is responsible for the policies that shape the company’s perspective and commitments on food issues ranging from animal welfare to food additives.

Prior to this role, Burnett worked for more than a decade on the Quality Assurance team, overseeing special projects including the creation and implementation of the company’s Clean food initiative, raised without antibiotics program, animal welfare standards and 2014 food policy.

She received a BA in Biology with a focus on environmental science from Washington University (St. Louis) and her MBA from Webster University.

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