- Panera's CEO challenged executives at Wendy's, McDonald's, and Burger King to eat from their chains' kids' meals for a week.
- Panera just launched a new kids' menu, which features smaller sizes of traditional menu items.
- CEO Ron Shaich says fast-food chains should stop giving away toys with kids' meals and cut "nutritional nightmares" like soda and fries.
Panera's CEO has a challenge for fast-food executives: Eat the meals their chains are serving children.
Specifically, Panera founder and CEO Ron Shaich on Wednesday challenged the CEOs of Wendy's, McDonald's, and Burger King to eat exclusively from their chain's kids' menus for seven days.
"I want to say to them, would you really eat your own kids' meals for a week?" Shaich told Business Insider. "Would you really order it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, three meals a day for seven days?
"What do you think the nutritional content of that food you'd be eating is?" he continued. "Do you feel good about that? And, if you don't feel good about it, why would you serve it to kids?"
The challenge accompanies the launch of Panera's revamped kids' menu. Starting Wednesday, children can pick almost any item on Panera's menu to order as a smaller-size entrée, priced from $4.59 to $7.89. In other words, Panera's kids' menu now contains 250 items and is free of artificial ingredients — as well as toys, a mainstay for kids' meals.
"I think that marketing to kids should be off limits, 100%," Shaich said. "We should not be selling to kids using cartoon characters, and we shouldn't be bringing them in on the gimmicks and the toys."
The inclusion of toys in McDonald's Happy Meals and kids' meals at other chains are designed to convince children to ask their parents to visit a certain fast-food chain. Most chains offer both healthier options, like apple slices and water, and what Shaich calls "nutritional nightmares" like soda and fries.
Fast-food chains have adjusted their menus in recent years, especially when it comes to kids' meals. For example, last week McDonald's announced it was replacing its 100% juice with a less sugary, organic apple juice in Happy Meals.
"We’re proud of how we’re continuing to raise the bar on the food we serve at McDonald’s," a McDonald's spokesperson told Business Insider. "Our recent announcement that we're adding Honest Kids Juice Drink to our Happy Meals joins other positive changes we have made, such as removing artificial preservatives from Chicken McNuggets, which also don’t have artificial colors or flavors."
While Shaich sees this as progress, he doesn't believe chains have done enough to switch to healthier, simple ingredients.
"I get really upset or angry when I see people 'cleanwashing,'" or advertising specific items made without preservatives or artificial ingredients, Shaich said. "It becomes simply a way to confuse people. They take one ingredient, say it's clean ... but you're out of integrity because the rest of it isn't."
Shaich says he isn't sure whether other executives — many of whom he says he considers friends — will take him up on his challenge. But he does suspect that many industry executives wouldn't want their children eating fast-food kids' meals every day.
"What we're trying to do is, in the middle of the night, trying to get these people to think to themselves — is what we're doing really for the good of the kids?" Shaich said.
Here's the video of Shaich challenging other fast-food CEOs to eat the food they serve kids:
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