Panera's CEO challenges McDonald's CEO to actually eat Happy Meals for a week

PaneraPaneraPanera’s kids’ menu is now simply smaller versions of ‘adult’ menu entrees.
  • Panera’s CEO challenged executives at Wendy’s, McDonald’s, and Burger King to eat their chains’ kids’ meals for a week.
  • Panera just launched a new kids’ menu, which features smaller sizes of traditional menu items.
  • CEO Shaich says fast-food chains should stop giving away toys with kids’ meals and cut “nutritional nightmares,” like soda and fries.

Panera’s CEO has a challenge for fast-food executives: actually eat the meals their chains are serving children.

On Wednesday, Panera founder and CEO Ron Shaich challenged the CEOs of Wendy’s, McDonald’s, and Burger King to personally eat exclusively from their chains’ kids’ menus for seven days.

“I want to say to them, would you really eat your own kids’ meals for a week?” Shaich told Business Insider. “Would you really order it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, three meals a day for seven days?”

“What do you think the nutritional content of that food you’d be eating is?” he continued. “Do you feel good about that? And, if you don’t feel good about it, why would you serve it to kids?”

The challenge accompanies the launch of Panera’s revamped kids’ menu. Starting Wednesday, children can pick almost any item on Panera’s menu to order as a smaller-sized entree, priced from $US4.59 to $US7.89. In other words, Panera’s kids menu is now 250 items long and free of artificial ingredients — as well as toys, a kids’ meal mainstay.

Panera Ron ShaichPaneraA photo of Shaich and his children featured in Panera’s video of the CEO challenging other executives to eat their chains’ kids’ meals.

“I think that marketing to kids should be off limits. 100%,” Shaich said. “We should not be selling to kids using cartoon characters, and we shouldn’t be bringing them in on the gimmicks and the toys.”

Toys in Happy Meals and other kids’ meals are often what convince children to start asking their parents to visit a certain fast-food chain. Most chains offer both healthier options, like apple slices and water, and what Shaich calls “nutritional nightmares,” like soda and fries.

In recent years, fast-food chains have been making menu adjustments, especially when it comes to the kids’ meals. For example, last week, McDonald’s announced it was replacing its existing 100% juice with a less sugary, organic apple juice in Happy Meals.

While Shaich sees this as progress, he doesn’t believe chains have done enough to switch to healthier, all-natural ingredients.

“I get really upset or angry when I see people ‘cleanwashing,'” or advertising specific items made without preservatives or artificial ingredients, Shaich said. “It becomes simply a way to confuse people. They take one ingredient, say it’s clean … but you’re out of integrity because the rest of it isn’t [clean].”

Shaich says he isn’t sure if other executives — many of whom he says he considers friends — will take him up on his challenge. But, he does think that in their hearts, many industry executives know they wouldn’t want their own children eating fast-food kids’ meals every day.

“What we’re trying to do is, in the middle of the night, trying to get these people to think to themselves — is what we’re doing really for the good of the kids?” Shaich said.

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.