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Panera expands its transparency on calories, adds low-sugar drinks

A to-go cup of fountain cola on a table at Panera Bread in Monroe, NY.
Waring Abbott | Getty Images
A to-go cup of fountain cola on a table at Panera Bread in Monroe, NY.

Panera is doubling down on its clean initiatives, this time by labeling its soft drinks and launching some sweet, low sugar beverages.

Starting Wednesday, the company's soda fountains will feature signage that lists each beverage's caloric and sugar content. The chain has listed caloric counts on food for years.

"With up to 75 grams of sugar, just one 20 ounce soft drink contains more than the recommended daily amount of added sugar," CEO Ron Shaich said. "While we won't tell people what they should drink, we want to provide real options and real transparency — and we're challenging the industry to join us."

In conjunction with these labels, the chain will also offer six noncarbonated teas, lemonades and frescas that range from unsweetened — zero grams of sugar — to medium sweetened — 34 grams of sugar.

Here are the new flavors:

  • 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.