Au Bon Pain Changes Hospital Menu Amid Complaints Of Unhealthy Food, But Only In NYC

Au Bon Pain
Au Bon Pain is tweaking its menu at select NYC hospitals in order to meet the city's healthy food standards. m01229, CC BY 2.0

Updated 9/29/15

Au Bon Pain — the restaurant chain often held up as the flagbearer of “fast-casual” dining — is cleaning up its act in New York City hospitals in response to pointed criticism over its deceptively unhealthy menu items.

As reported by the Daily News, the chain has already revamped its selections at the Jacobi Medical Center in Morris Park, Bronx to fully adhere to the City’s “ Healthy Hospital Food Initiative. ” The “unprecedented voluntary program that promotes healthier food choices in hospitals” first began in 2012, having enrolled at the time 32 private and public hospitals around the city. Au Bon Pain, originally located in Boston, has operated exclusively at Jacobi since 2007 as well as at three other medical centers in Manhattan (Bellevue Hospital), Queens (Elmhurst Hospital), and Brooklyn (Coney Island Hospital).

NYC’s Cafeteria/Cafe initiative lists 20 guidelines for hospital food providers to abide by; ranging from requiring all menu items to contain 0 grams trans fat per serving to ensuring that at least half of all breakfast bread items offered contain 300 calories or less. The changes have already taken root at Jacobi and Bellevue, and will roll out at Elmhurst and Coney Island Hospital in about a week, Maria Feicht, chief branding officer of Au Bon Pain, told the Daily News.

Though certainly a laudable announcement, it’s one that appears to coincide with recent public pressure, specifically by City Councilman Corey Johnson, chair of the Council’s Health Committee. On September 20th, Johnson sent a letter to the president and CEO of the Health and Hospitals Corporation (HHC), Dr. Ram Raju, asking him to end the city’s partnership with the chain.

According to the Daily News, Johnson cited data taken from a report created by the No Bon Pain campaign, a concentrated effort orchestrated last year by Unite Here, a union representing around 270,000 workers in the hotel, gaming, food service, manufacturing, textile, distribution, laundry, transportation, and airport industries across the U.S. and Canada.

Among other startling statistics, the report found that many of Au Bon Pain’s menu items could contain more calories than anything seen at your typical McDonald’s restaurant; that more than half of their whole lunch/dinner sandwiches and wraps contained over 9 grams of saturated fat  — a higher percentage when compared to Burger King and McDonald’s; and that the average amount of sodium found in a medium cup of their soup (1036 milligrams) was equivalent to 5 and a half orders of medium-sized french fries from McDonald’s.

"They've been really trying to disparage our food, but the whole thing really has nothing to do with food," Paula Doyle, vice president of marketing at Au Bon Pain told The Plainsman this January in response to these claims. "It has to do with a labor issue with one of our locations in Philadelphia."

As reported by Medical Daily last month, this isn’t the first time Councilman Johnson has made waves over public health concerns in New York City. Working together with several activist organizations this summer, Johnson had attempted to secure additional funding for the city’s publicly-owned STD clinics, though with middling success as of yet.

In the days since the original Daily News story broke, Au Bon Pain has responded.

"The changes to Au Bon Pain's menu were launched to comply with the NYC Healthy Hospital Food Initiative and have been in the works for months. On our own accord, we chose to take part in this initiative because it is something that we were already moving toward in our cafés" said Maria Feicht in a statement to Medical Daily. "Au Bon Pain, with the help of our esteemed Nutritional Advisory Board, is making strategic menu changes in reference to reduced sodium, smaller portions, and more multigrain offerings. Changes that can be seen across our brand, not just at our hospital locations." 

"With an emphasis on balance, customers at our cafés will always have the options and information available to make the best choice for their own dietary needs," she went on to add.

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