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Panera to the FDA: Define 'egg'

In a shot to its competitors, Panera petitions the government to improve food transparency around eggs.

What’s an egg? Panera Bread wants the answer defined.

The bakery/cafe chain, in a shot to many of its competitors in the breakfast business, has petitioned the Food and Drug Administration to establish a clear definition for the term “egg.”

The petition coincides with the chain’s release of its new breakfast sandwiches, made with real eggs.

To Panera, and probably to most people, eggs are cracked shell eggs, or egg whites, with no additives.

The company said that in developing its new sandwiches, it discovered that current FDA regulations do not establish a definition or a standard for the identity of eggs.

“Without this, companies can sell and advertise items that contain multiple additives, such as butter-type flavors, gums and added color, under the generic term ‘egg,’” the company said. Panera wants the FDA to make that definition clearer.

The St. Louis-based company said that about 50% of the 10 largest fast-casual restaurants that sell breakfast have an egg that’s made of at least five ingredients.

“Panera and our competitors use the FDA definitions to guide our product descriptions and names,” Sara Burnett, Panera’s director of wellness and food policy, said in a statement. “But in the case of eggs, we have no guidance. Brands can say they offer an egg sandwich, but sell an egg product that contains multiple additives.”

Panera’s petition comes as the industry is increasingly competing over not only the taste of their food but also how that food is raised and prepared. The chain has been promoting itself as a purveyor of food made from all-natural ingredients amid consumer concern over additives in many food products.

“Responsible companies will be transparent about the food items they serve, even if regulation does not require them to do so,” CEO Blaine Hurst said in a statement.

The 2,000-unit Panera was sold to the private-equity firm JAB Holding last year, and Hurst took over as CEO for Ron Shaich.

The chain’s new breakfast sandwiches are made to order and served on a brioche bun and topped with white cheddar cheese and thick-cut bacon. Customers can customize the sandwiches with spinach, avocado or sauces.

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