Panera CEO on adding sugar labels to soda fountains: 'We're not the food police'

Ronald 'Ron' Shaich, founder, chairman and chief executive officer of Panera Bread Co.
Peter Foley | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Panera Bread doesn't want to scrutinize your eating habits, it just wants to give you plenty of options, the restaurant's CEO said Friday.

Starting Wednesday, the company's soda fountains will feature signage that lists each beverage's caloric and sugar content. It will also be launching some new, low-sugar beverages.

"We thought the way to deal with people, to help them, really help them, is to provide two things," CEO Ron Shaich said Friday on "Squawk on the Street."

"One: real options. So we brought out a range of low-sugar and moderate-sugar beverages. They are essentially fruit and water and tea. And at the same time, we thought that information was power. We want to offer people the opportunity to know how much added sugar is in a 20-ounce cup of soda."

Panera, which has a partnership with Pepsi, isn't going to strike soda from the menu. In fact, Shaich admitted to indulging in an occasional cup of soda.

"We're not the food police," Shaich said. "It's not our job to, you know, say you shouldn't do this or that. What we really want is to make sure we have real options and real transparency and leave it up to you to make the decision."

The six noncarbonated teas, lemonades and frescas being offered as of Wednesday range from unsweetened — zero grams of sugar — to medium sweetened — less than 35 grams of sugar.

The new flavors are:

  • Iced Black Tea (zero grams of sugar)
  • Plum Ginger Hibiscus Tea (zero grams of sugar)
  • Prickly Pear Hibiscus Fresca (zero grams of sugar)
  • Passion Papaya Green Tea (less than 35 grams of sugar)
  • Blood Orange Lemonade (less than 35 grams of sugar)
  • Agave Lemonade (less than 35 grams of sugar)

These beverages have no artificial sweeteners, preservatives, artificial flavors and colors and will sell for the same price as a fountain drink.

Sara Burnett, director of wellness at Panera, told CNBC the flavor combinations were chosen to offer diners a balance between sweet and tart flavors. Also, many of the fruits are naturally sweet and do not require any added sweeteners.