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Panera to Post Calorie Counts – Is it Really a Smart Move?

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Yesterday, Panera Bread (the Voorhees, NJ location reviewed here) announced that it would begin posting calorie counts for all menu items in its 585 store network by March 24, 2010 as reported by various media outlets. The move, designed to mirror New York City law, is entirely voluntary as is believed to be the first of its kind for a major national chain. While Panera is confident the listings will -increase- sales, it will remain to be seen the long-term branding impact this might have on their core business. See below to find some surprising numbers we put together.

If you thought Panera was healthy-ish, you’re probably not alone. But with two paninis (which I never thought were especially generous to start with) topping well into the 800 calorie mark, it begs to ask the question if Panera is any better than McDonalds. To figure that one out, I went over to the McDonalds site and bagged a typical meal of a Big Mac and medium fries against a single Panera panini cited in the CNBC article linked.

Calories/Calories From Fat/Total Fat(g)/Saturated Fat(g)/Trans Fat(g)/Cholesterol (mg)/Sodium (mg)/Carbohydrates (g)/Dietary Fiber/Sugars/Protein

MCDONALDS:  920 430 48 13 1.5 75 1300 93 8 9 29
PANERA:           860 360 39 09 0.5 100 2150 80 4 6 46

Honestly, I was pretty shocked. Big Mac and fries – the epitome of ‘bad for you’, is only marginally worse than a Panera panini, and in fact, has several better qualities depending on your nutritional goals:

Worried about your cholesterol? Skip the panini and hit the Big Mac. The panini has 33% more.

Cutting down on sodium? Panera’s panini will pump in 90% of your RDA of sodium in one sitting. The Big Mac/fries combo is nearly half of that.

Need a good source of fiber? Well, neither really has it, but the Big Mac/fries combo still doubles the panini.

    Of course, the panini has a few less calories, fat, and much more protien, so the results are certainly up to interpretation, but a reasonable party would surely conclude that there isn’t a whole lot of difference between eating either item. For the case of McDonalds, they’d probably welcome that comparison. Panera? Not so much.

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