One of Panera Bread’s recent tweets is blowing up in a bad way: Last week the fast-casual chain claimed that sodium benzoate — a food preservative — is more commonly used in fireworks. In fact, sodium benzoate is more commonly used as a food preservative, and is naturally found in some fruit, such as cranberries.
Call us crazy, but we believe if it’s in fireworks, it shouldn’t be in your food. pic.twitter.com/9nDjGFdxf0— Panera Bread (@panerabread) July 20, 2017
Panera’s Twitter followers were quick to point out that this message looked a lot like food fear-mongering, and represented a poor understanding of chemistry.
Mate, I'd suggest talking to some scientists before mouthing off. Formaldehyde is naturally occurring in foods for instance— Upulie Divisekera (@upulie) July 22, 2017
Sodium benzoate is found naturally in tiny amounts in fruits such as cranberries, prunes, and apples.— Santiago X Navarro (@sxnavarro) July 22, 2017
you can make fireworks with sugar, too. Table sugar. It's called R-Candy. This is an absurd level of "chemistry is scary" fear tactics. stop— Lupi Sockderg (@aWildLupiDragon) July 20, 2017
You only what else is in fireworks? Salts and carbon.— Haje (@Haje) July 22, 2017
Potassium belongs in bombs not bananas!! Am I doing this right??— Ksatriya (@rebelrhyming) July 22, 2017
There's hydrogen in a hydrogen bomb so I guess we shouldn't breathe or drink water either, huh?— Gabe (@Fam1LyGB) July 20, 2017
Fireworks also rely on oxygen to work. Maybe your marketing staff should stop using that.— Steve Lundberg (@TV_techSUP) July 22, 2017
Panera's anti-science fear mongering is ridiculous. I'm never eating there again.— Mariam Watt (@MariamWatt) July 21, 2017
If water can do this to rocks, imagine what its doing to your body!! pic.twitter.com/plveyHq4kI— Dorian Satterlee (@deesatte) July 22, 2017
Dozens of Twitter users came out to say they would stop eating at Panera unless the company deleted its tweet. (As of the time of publication, the tweet is still live.) Panera has not yet responded to a request for comment.
This isn’t the first time Twitter has called the bakery-cafe out for its messaging. Earlier this month, the chain claimed a common synthesized antioxidant that’s also found in glue should be kept out of sausage.
For decades Panera has marketed its bread-centric menu as wholesome and “artisanal.” Its current marketing campaign is called “Food As It Should Be.” The emphasis is on informing the public that Panera’s food contains less “junk” than its competitors’.
While the chain founded in 1981 has gone to great lengths to emphasize that its food is of higher quality than fast food, at least some consumers are tiring of what they see as conflicting or incorrect messaging. Unlike the yoga mat chemical controversy Subway weathered in 2014, at least some of the additives Panera is pointing its finger at may not actually be harmful.
Update 7/25/17 9:01 a.m.: Panera’s director of wellness and food policy Sara Burnett sent Eater the following statement regarding its recent messaging:
At Panera we believe great food doesn’t require artificial preservatives like sodium benzoate. With that idea in mind, we crafted this campaign to spark a dialogue around the pervasive use of artificial food additives. While we don’t use any artificial preservatives, flavors, sweeteners or colors in the food we serve, we know chemicals like these can do good in communities across the country. On Thursday, June 29th Panera put on a 4th of July firework show for Johnston City, Illinois, to give this preservative a purpose, one that brought joy and entertainment to many in this small town.