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National Restaurant Association - Plain and simple, some chains are offering clean-label menu items

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Plain and simple, some chains are offering clean-label menu items

Restaurant companies, committed to answering their customers’ calls for clean-label items, are taking that request seriously.

In addition to offering more better-for-you menu options that are smaller in size, lower in calories and made with whole grains and lean proteins, some restaurant chains also are removing artificial colors and preservatives from their foods. Here’s a sampling:


On Sept. 26, McDonald’s announced its iconic hamburger would no longer contain any artificial ingredients, except for its pickle topping, which customers could opt to leave off. The change affects all 14,000 of the chain’s U.S. restaurants. The company also said it has removed artificial preservatives from its American cheese, Big Mac Special Sauce, regular bun, Quarter Pounder bun and Big Mac Bun. “From switching to 100-percent fresh beef in our quarter-pound burgers … to removing artificial preservatives in our Chicken McNuggets, and committing to cage-free eggs by 2025, we’ve made significant strides in evolving the quality of our food,” said McDonald’s USA President Chris Kempczinski. “We know quality choices are important to our customers, and this latest positive change to our classic burgers demonstrates our committed journey to leading with the customer and building a better McDonald’s.”

Dunkin’ Donuts

In January, the 68-year-old quickserve bakery-café chain said it removed artificial dyes from its donuts in the United States, and that they were no longer made using colors from artificial sources. Tony Weisman, the chain’s chief marketing officer, said the initiative took years of research and development, but that the brand was “thrilled to take such a big step in providing guests with simpler ingredients while still delivering the delicious taste and vivid colors they expected.” He also said, “Customers would be hard-pressed to see the color difference in the new donuts.” In addition, the company plans to remove artificial dyes across its menu, including donut icings, fillings and toppings, Coolatta frozen beverages, baked goods, breakfast sandwiches and coffee flavorings by year-end. The chain sells 2.7 billion donuts and Munchkin donut hole treats a year. They are available in more than 70 varieties.

Panera Bread

In 2017, Panera Bread announced that all of the food on its U.S. menu is made from 100-percent clean ingredients. The company promised its diners in 2014 it would remove artificial flavors, preservatives, sweeteners and colors from its menu items. As part of that promise, the company reviewed more than 450 ingredients to ensure the removal, and reformulated 122, which resulted in changes to the majority of the bakery-café chain’s recipes. “At Panera, we want to serve food we want our own families to enjoy,” said founder Ron Shaich. “Offering a clean menu free from all artificial flavors, preservatives, sweeteners and colors from artificial sources is one way we can help our guests feel confident about the food they eat at Panera.

What’s the takeaway? Restaurant companies know consumers often want more clean-label items when dining out and are striving to meet their needs.

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