Jan 29 (Reuters) - Panera Bread Co, a pioneer in serving "clean" restaurant food, has started a consulting service to help other chains remove artificial preservatives, sweeteners, flavors and colors from menus.
The bakery/cafe chain's "clean consultant" services include helping clients find ways to source healthier and more natural ingredients and to improve and differentiate menus, Panera said on Monday.
"We want to help industry peers devise strategies that prioritize clean across their whole menu, rather than focusing on a single ingredient or product," said Sara Burnett, Panera's director of wellness and food policy.
She said Panera, which competes with Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc and other limited-service chains, has removed more than 150 ingredients from its food. On Monday it also announced its latest retooled product: "clean" chicken wing sauce.
Panera founder and Chairman Ron Shaich said industry peers had approached the company for help in cleaning up their menus. "We thought it was time to formalize that advice," he said.
Shaich said the service would help end "clean washing," where companies reformulate a product like chicken nuggets to be more natural and then serve it with dipping sauces made from unnatural or unhealthy ingredients.
Panera did not say how many consultants it would hire or how many clients had signed up for the service.
Privately held JAB Holding bought Panera in July in an all-cash deal valued at around $7.5 billion, including debt. JAB also owns Caribou Coffee, Peet's Coffee & Tea and Keurig Green Mountain, which on Monday said it planned to buy soda maker Dr Pepper Snapple Group Inc in a deal worth more than $21 billion.
Panera has led other public health efforts ranging from disclosing calorie counts on menus to curbing purchases of meats raised with medically important antibiotics. (Reporting by Lisa Baertlein in Los Angeles; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)