Panera puts purpose where its mouth is

Making ‘food as it should be’ with Jonathan Yohannan

While at Panera, Jonathan Yohannan ran major decisions by his 10-year-old daughter. Why? He wanted to make sure the company was doing right by its customers. This kind of thinking helped Yohannan navigate challenges on Panera’s path to an “all clean” menu. All in pursuit of a clear purpose: Food as it should be.

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During his time at Panera, Jonathan Yohannan, former Vice President, Public Relations*, saw the company’s shift to an all-clean menu. No preservatives. No antibiotics. No artificial ingredients.

Just clean food. Food as it should be.

That’s Panera’s purpose today, and it’s especially commendable given how price-competitive fast casual chains are. While more chains are adding healthy choices to their menus and eliminating “bad” ingredients, none have completely overhauled their menus like Panera did.

These changes are not just to benefit Panera. The company and its founder and former CEO, Ron Shaich, have been vocal about shifting the industry’s approach to food. “Food as it should be” isn’t just about what’s served at Panera, but the options every consumer has, anywhere they eat.

Here are some of the insights Yohannan shared in this episode:

  • Be vulnerable. Panera is ahead of cultural conversation about food. But that can be challenging, especially for a food brand – by publicly removing artificial sweeteners from your menu, you’re also admitting there have been artificial sweeteners in people’s food. Panera addresses this by inviting customers into the conversation. “It’s the trust factor. We’re not perfect, but we’re going to at least tell you where we are along the journey.”
  • Consult with a diversity of experts. This trail is not blazed alone. Dietitians, farmers, scientists, policy writers, and other experts guide Panera’s decision-making and adoption of new policies. It’s a communal process that allows new and diverse voices to be heard.
  • Change, don’t replace. Creating an all-clean menu doesn’t have to mean replacing the entire supply chain. Of the vendors that provide Panera’s 460 ingredients, many with sub-ingredients, only one was removed from the supply chain. This is because Panera collaborated with vendors to update their practices and products.
  • Embrace criticism. As with any brand pushing boundaries, there are occasionally critics attacking Panera for going too far or not going far enough. Panera uses that criticism as a metric for success. “If you don’t get criticism, you haven’t stood for anything. And that’s the truth."

*Yohannan now serves as SVP, Integrated Communications at KIND Snacks.

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