BROOMFIELD, COLO. — More and more restaurant chains are announcing major menu moves toward simple ingredients. Joining the likes of Panera Bread and Chipotle Mexican Grill is Noodles & Co., the Broomfield-based fast-casual chain with 455 restaurants, which said it plans to remove all artificial colors, flavors and preservatives from all of its soups, sauces and dressings later this year. The company also said it is testing naturally raised, antibiotic-free chicken in its restaurants and is working with suppliers to expand the ingredient nationwide over the rest of the year and into 2016.
“(A) strength of the brand is Noodles’ ability to resonate with guests of all types through our distinct approach to craft cooking, our service model, and most importantly, the quality ingredients and flavors offered in our menu,” said Kevin Reddy, chairman and chief executive officer of Noodles & Co., during a May 5 earnings call with financial analysts. “The fresh vegetables we prep throughout the day, our quest for real ingredients, clean labels, and cooked-to-order meals meet the discerning desires of guests today.”
Noodles & Co. has long touted the quality of its ingredients, which include organic tofu, naturally raised pork, fresh produce and noodles made without bioengineered ingredients. Limited-time offers showcase such seasonal ingredients as asparagus and corn, which is shucked and sheathed in the restaurants. Recently, Noodles & Co. introduced Buff Bowls, which substitute fresh spinach for pasta in four of the chain’s signature dishes.
“I tell you, I think the quality of ingredients, non-processed, are very important,” Mr. Reddy said. “All the work that our supply chain team has done and continues to do, I think just support a strong story and positioning about ingredients that still is a differentiator today. I think more and more companies, as well as the agricultural system, will move in that direction. That is working.”
In early May, St. Louis-based Panera Bread announced plans to eliminate artificial preservatives, sweeteners, colors and flavors from the food served in its bakery-cafes by the end of 2016. Some ingredients the company will remove include acesulfame K, autolyzed yeast extract, high-fructose corn syrup, maltodextrin, microparticulated whey protein concentrate and others.
At the end of April, Denver-based Chipotle said it had successfully removed bioengineered ingredients from its food and is working to eliminate additives from its tortillas.
Also in April, McDonald’s Corp., Oak Brook, Ill., debuted a revamped recipe for its grilled chicken, which no longer includes artificial flavors, added colors or preservatives. The chicken is seasoned with “pantry spices” and herbs, such as parsley, salt and onion powder, and cooked in a canola and olive oil blend. Previously, the grilled chicken was prepared with liquid margarine, which included hydrogenated oils and artificial flavor. The introduction followed a new policy McDonald’s announced in March to only source chicken raised without human antibiotics.
Carl’s Jr., Carpinteria, Calif., last December claimed to be the first fast-food chain to offer a natural beef patty with the introduction of the All-Natural Burger, made with a grass-fed, free-range beef patty that has no added hormones, antibiotics or steroids. The company said the burger comes in response to a growing demand for “cleaner” food, particularly among millennials.
And Chick-fil-A, Atlanta, last year pledged to serve antibiotic-free chicken in all of its restaurants within five years. The fast-food chain previously removed yellow dye from its chicken soup and tested the removal of high-fructose corn syrup from its dressings and sauces, artificial ingredients from its buns, and tert-Butylhydroquinone, an artificial preservative, from its peanut oil.
Two in five consumers cite a rising concern over food additives, according to recent research from Technomic Inc., a Chicago-based firm.
“Greater awareness for health and wellness is driving the growth in healthful menu items, yet our research indicates that the majority of consumers still opt for more indulgent food,” said Darren Tristano, executive vice-president of Technomic. “The push and pull between healthfulness and indulgence makes an All-Natural Burger on-trend.“All-natural products also have a ‘health halo’ impact and often help consumers feel confident that they are getting a product better for them and from a source they can feel good about.”