It’s no shocker that dining out can really rack up the calories; in fact, a turkey and avocado sandwich at Panera contains 600. Add a cup of broccoli soup and your lunch just jumped to 830 calories. And of course you need to wash it down with a beverage. That 20-ounce cup of Pepsi will bring your lunch up to more than 1,000 calories. It’s easy to discount the calories we drink rather than eat. A survey conducted by the fast-casual restaurant chain Panera reveals that 99 percent of Americans don't know how much sugar is in their soda.
However, many health professionals point to the added sugar and zero nutritional value in soft drinks as one cause of obesity. FitDay estimates that two cans of soda every day can add up to 24 pounds of fat per year. Panera is making it easier to ditch the soda by displaying the nutrition information for soft drinks on their new 20-ounce cups.
The company’s new “sweet facts” fountain cup lists the calories and sugar of its craft beverages (made in-house) and traditional sodas. Panera founder, Chairman and CEO Ron Shaich says it’s the company’s attempt at better educating customers about what they’re eating.
“We believe it’s up to companies to take the lead on transparency, not wait for legislation. Earlier this year we became the first national restaurant company to post both calories and added sugar at the point of pour, but we quickly saw that we could—and should—do more,” Shaich says in a statement. “With the combination of more information and better options available, we’re seeing our guests begin to trade from fountain soft drinks to our new clean beverages.”
While the move is explained as a decision to help customers make more informed choices, it also helps to encourage sales of its low-calorie-and-sugar beverages. Panera markets them as 100 percent "clean" craft beverages since they do not contain artificial sweeteners, preservatives, flavors or colors. In March, the company also added signs near the beverage fountains with nutrition information. According to the company, this led to an eight percent increase of medium and lightly sweetened drinks.
Despite spending $80 billion on soft drinks last year, consumption has declined for the past 12 years. In April, Reuters reported that soda sales declined about 1.2 percent last year in the United States, partly due to health-conscious consumers and sugar taxes. In response, beverage makers have introduced more low-sugar offerings like sparkling water, teas and probiotic drinks. Pepsi, which is served in Panera restaurants, told USA Today that it wasn’t concerned about the restaurant’s new sweet facts.
"Pepsico and Panera are both on a journey to offer consumers healthier beverage options with fewer calories and less added sugar. We have a diverse portfolio of low-calorie, no-calorie, no added sugar and unsweetened beverage choices," the company spokesperson told USA Today.
Panera might have seen an increase in healthier beverage sales through their signage, but research on whether providing nutrition information increases healthier choices has been murky. One study from 2015 indicates that restaurants that display nutrition have meals with fewer calories, however, numerous studies have shown that people will still knowingly choose unhealthy food.
Bruce Lee, the director of the Global Obesity Prevention Center at Johns Hopkins University's Bloomberg School of Public Health explained to USA Today why he thinks the new cups will have little impact. "Is it going to be dramatic, huge intervention, the big shift? Probably not," he said. "People already attuned already looked for (the nutritional information) and were already aware this drink is high in calories or they would’ve opted for water. I’m not positive how how strong an impact this will have."