Panera Bread CEO slams McDonald's for new McNuggets commercial that left him furious

Ron Shaich servingPanera/David ElmesPanera CEO Ron Shaich.

Panera Bread CEO Ron Shaich claims McDonald’s is misleading customers about its food.

“I was offended watching this [McDonald’s] commercial during the Olympics about the preservative-free McNuggets. I thought ‘you’ve got to be kidding,'” Shaich said in a phone interview with Business Insider. “Sure, you’ve got McNuggets that are preservative-free, but what are you dipping them in? Sauces that are filled with that stuff!”

McDonald’s announced last week that it was removing artificial preservatives from Chicken McNuggets, eliminating high-fructose corn syrup from its hamburger buns, and transitioning to antibiotic-free chicken one year earlier than planned.

In the wake of the announcement, the company received some criticism that its sauces still contained preservatives.

Shaich commended McDonald’s for taking steps in the “right direction” to rid its menu of artificial ingredients, but said the company’s advertising could lead consumers to think that everything on the menu is preservative-free.

“What is wrong is when you [remove preservatives from] one product and you start advertising that, and you generalize or give the impression that the whole menu is that way,” he said.

McDonald’s did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Shaich also tore into the fast-food industry’s marketing of kids’ meals.

“The way in which this industry is doing kids meals is not right,” he said.

Historically, kids meals have been built around “marketing gimmicks and toys,” he said.

“It’s been [about] building basically value meals around a kids’ product and a sugary beverage and a side, and we think it’s wrong,” he said. “None of it is clean food. It’s all full of artificial preservatives and artificial sweeteners and flavours and non-naturally occurring colours.”

With that in mind, Panera issued a challenge to the restaurant industry on Thursday to adhere to a new “kids meal promise.”

The promise — which Panera is hoping serves as a model for others — requires restaurants to adhere to a number of standards, including ridding kids’ meals of artificial flavours, sweeteners, and colours. Panera’s kids’ menu is already free of those things.

“We welcome helping anybody that wants to go down this path,” Shaich said.

Here are the tenets of Panera’s “kids meal promise:”

  • Clean . No artificial flavours, preservatives, sweeteners or colours from artificial sources.
  • Worthy of trust. No gimmicks. No distractions. No cartoon characters, crazy colours, toys, or toy-shaped food.
  • Full of delicious options. Let kids be kids. Let them be picky. Let them make their own choices from a menu full of tasty, wholesome options.
  • Nutritiously paired. Growing bodies need a meal complete with nutritious sides. Not fries, not onion rings. Options like organic yogurt, sprouted grain rolls, or apples.
  • Drink optional. Kids meals shouldn’t encourage kids to drink a sugary beverage. Ours never have, never will. Water first, then the option of adding organic milk or 100% juice.

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