Today, fast-casual chain Panera Bread announced its goal to become climate positive by 2050—a first among its competing chains. While others are looking to get to neutral, Panera is aiming to remove more carbon from the atmosphere than it emits and is committing to several initiatives to help it get there, including increasing what it calls “Cool Food Meals”—or options that have a lower carbon footprint. In the short term, by 2025, Panera aims to increase the percentage of its Cool Food Meals to 60 percent of its entrées; transition to 100-percent circular, reusable, recyclable, and compostable packaging; and use green, renewable electricity for at least 50 percent of Panera Bread-owned operations. 

Panera acknowledges that food production is responsible for 25 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions—and animal agriculture makes up the majority of those emissions. Last year, Panera became the first company to label food according to its climate impact with its Cool Food Meals initiative. 

To create the labeling system, Panera partnered with World Resources Institute (WRI) which measured the carbon footprint of Panera’s menu options and identified carbon thresholds for every meal occasion (breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks). If a meal meets a nutritional guardrail and does not exceed its carbon budget, it is labelled as a Cool Food Meal. While these meals are made from mostly low climate-impact foods such as grains, vegetables, legumes, and fruit, Panera also includes what it identifies as lower impact animal-derived foods such as fish, poultry, and eggs.

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“Climate change is one of the greatest humanitarian crises of our time, and we must act now for our planet. We embrace the responsibility to take immediate and relentless action to create positive change and hope that our industry will follow us,” Panera CEO Niren Chaudhary said in a statement. “We are sharing our vision for a climate positive future to inspire both our industry and our supply chain partners to take urgent, decisive, and clear action.” 

The more than 2,000-unit chain aims to first reduce its emissions in line with a 1.5°C science-based target before committing to credible carbon removal and sequestration projects to get to its 2050 climate positive goal. Should Panera reach its goal, the company will remove approximately 2.4 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents (compared to its 2019 baseline) from the atmosphere annually, the equivalent of carbon sequestered by 2.96 million acres of forest per year, an area 14 times the size of New York City. 

Will Panera add more vegan options to meet climate goals?

Last year, Chaudhary announced that the company will reduce the amount of meat it serves in coming years with the goal of serving 50-percent plant-based options—which Panera defines as “items featuring mainly grains, fruits, or vegetables that may also contain small portions of dairy and eggs, but no meat proteins.” In conjunction with its climate announcement, Panera also updated its “food beliefs” to include a section for plant-based food and a guide to eating vegan at the chain. Last year, Panera also dropped its surcharge for plant-based milk helping customers to make climate-friendly choices. 

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While Panera’s move away from the highest-impact proteins (beef and lamb) is a step in the right direction, fully replacing animal proteins with lower impact plant-based foods would help the chain reach its climate goals the fastest. 

Currently, Panera offers a few vegan options such as its 10 Vegetable Soup—its first vegan soup in three years—which was launched in 2019 to signal a more sustainable way forward for the chain and more animal-free options are on the way. “We have multiple vegetarian and vegan items in our innovation pipeline. While we’re not ready to share just yet, we will certainly share with VegNews as they get into wider market tests,” Sara Burnett, Vice President of Food Beliefs, Sustainability, and PR at Panera Bread, told VegNews. “At the moment, we have menu items that are already vegan by themselves and most of our entrees just require a couple of customizations to be.”

The vegan as-is options at Panera currently includes several bagels, focaccias, smoothies, the aforementioned soup, and a Tomato Basil Cucumber Salad. Otherwise, a number of items can be customized to be vegan by taking off meat (such as the Fuji Apple with Chicken Salad) or removing dairy (as in the Mediterranean Grain Bowl). Panera offers a serving of avocado or extra vegetables upon request to make up for the removed meat. 

For more about vegan at Panera, read:
The Vegan Guide to Ordering at Panera
Panera’s New Docu-Series Promotes Plant-Based Diet
Vegan Copycat Panera Broccoli Cheddar Soup

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