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Published: Thursday, 3/11/2010

Panera to post calorie counts at eateries

Later this month, calorie counts will be available nationwide. Later this month, calorie counts will be available nationwide.

Panera Bread customers nationwide soon will be able to tally calories for their smokehouse turkey panini and broccoli cheddar soup with just a glance at the menu board.

Panera announced yesterday it will be the first nationwide chain to voluntarily post calorie information at all of its company-owned restaurants. The industry had opposed requirements that chains post calorie counts.

But that is changing as local laws requiring nutritional disclosure become more common and Congress considers a nationwide mandate. Some chains, such as McDonald's, post some health information about their products.

"It puts everything out in the open, obviously," Scott Davis, Panera's chief concept officer, said. "So when you look at making a choice between a soup with 100 calories and a sandwich with 300 or 400 calories, it puts it pretty clearly what's in your best interest."

Calorie counts will be up by March 24 at all 585 company-owned stores, including Saint Louis Bread Co. and Paradise Bakery & Cafe stores. Panera expects its franchisees to follow, covering all 1,380 stores.

That puts Panera ahead of Yum Brands Inc. - parent of KFC, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, Long John Silver's, and A&W All-American Food - which committed in 2008 to place calorie counts on menu boards at corporate-owned restaurants nationwide by Jan. 1, 2011. Yum senior vice president Jonathan Blum said they are testing their menu boards and are on target to make the commitment at more than 3,200 restaurants.

Panera and Yum, like most national chains, have been forced to display the information in some cities as local-disclosure laws kick in.

Researchers at the Stanford graduate school of business found that calorie postings in New York City Starbucks led to a 6 percent reduction in calories per transaction. New York City Department of Health's researchers last year found customers cutting calories in items at nine of 13 chains in the city, including McDonald's, KFC, Au Bon Pain, and Starbucks.

Panera's Mr. Davis said buying patterns haven't changed much in the 147 outlets that post calorie counts. But he said it seems to have inspired more customers to go for the "You-Pick-Two" option, which offers a choice of two items among soup, a half sandwich, and a half salad.

"The people who are really tuned into it, they love it," he said. "The people who don't want to know about it, they don't even see it."

Restaurants have sometimes balked at the patchwork of local laws, and an industry group tried to sue over the New York City law. The calorie-disclosure mandate included in the proposed health-care reform bill before Congress has drawn mixed reviews in the industry.

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