panera bowl

Q&A with John Taylor Chef and Director, Concept and Chair of the Food Policy Team, Panera Bread


A few weeks ago Kara Mergl, our Manager of Corporate Engagement, was invited to attend a tasting party for Panera Bread's new Broth Bowls; one of which includes a hardboiled cage-free egg.

As fans of Choose Cage-Free, you’ll already know that Panera Bread is doing great things for animals.  You’ll be even happier to hear that Panera now has a cage-free menu item. A few weeks ago, Kara Mergl, our Manager of Corporate Engagement was invited to attend a tasting party for Panera Bread's new Broth Bowls; one of which includes a hardboiled cage-free egg.  She had the chance to go behind the scenes in a test kitchen with the Panera team to learn more about what inspired the dish, the ingredients, and see how the bowls are made. While there are four new Broth Bowls in total, it’s probably no surprise that her favorite was the Lentil Quinoa Bowl with Cage-Free Egg.  It’s a meal packed full of flavor, hardiness, and warmth.  The egg sits right on the surface as the final cherry on top, if you will.  
We thought you’d also like the same inside scoop behind your new favorite cage-free egg dish, so we sat down with Panera’s John Taylor to ask him a few questions. Here’s what he had to say: 

Question: Please describe your role at Panera Bread and what you love most about it.  

Answer: I wear a couple different hats. I work on the concept team, so half of my job is focused on food and development, primarily working on lunch ideas. We test those ideas, working in a group to create something that we believe our customers will like. I am also on the food action and policy team. Last June, we publically launched our food policy, and in December we followed up with our progress. We want to be completely transparent with our consumers on what we’re achieving and I’m pleased to say that we have made significant progress.

What I love the most about my role is being a part of the specialness of Panera, and working with a brand that is changing the way Americans eat in this country. One because of our size and our scale, and two the things we believe in.

Question: We admire that Panera Bread chooses to use healthy, sustainable ingredients and has good animal welfare standards. Why is it important for you to be part of a food business that has these values when it comes to food integrity?

Answer: I always tell my kids what my dad told me – find something you love to do that drives you, and that you can connect with emotionally. I think I share a lot of similar values with Panera. It’s not just about short-term gain, but about having long-term commitments to better food. Panera allows me to do that and I have an opportunity to have a positive impact.

Question: Why has Panera Bread recently chosen to highlight cage-free eggs in a new menu item, the broth bowl? And why is it important for you to add to the label “…with cage-free egg” instead of just saying “…with egg”?

Answer: We don’t want to take for granted that our customers know about the story behind some of our special ingredients. We want to share what we think matters to them. It's like our commitment to producing and baking from fresh dough daily.  It's an enormous challenge daily (not one that's easier or less expensive,) but one that creates a fundamental difference in what we offer, and a story worth telling. So if it’s not just a regular hard cooked egg, but a cage-free egg hard cooked egg, we want to share information with them as well.

Question: Do you expect to see more cage-free menu items over time?

Answer: There will be ongoing improvements in our animal welfare policies year over year and we’ll continue to be transparent – whether it’s the issue of animals raised without antibiotics or confinement. If you look what has happened in California, with Proposition 2, it’s changing the dynamics of the egg supply chain. Based on changes like these, we’ll continue to make improvements and reflect them in our menu. I think it’s a journey that will never really end.

Question: How do you hope customers will respond when they see that you now have cage-free items on the menu?

Answer: I hope it creates an opportunity for dialogue. There are many people in the United States who don’t know where food comes from and how it is handled. By putting a label that says “cage-free egg”, our customers can look at it and almost intuitively realize that it means that there are some eggs that aren’t cage-free.

Question: You mention that many people don’t know where their food comes from, why do you think we’re so disconnected from our food?

Answer: I think our lives are busier than ever ­– with work, travel, and technology – and so in the last few decades we’ve become even further removed from food. Most of us aren’t even aware of the scale of factory farming that occurs in the U.S. and the level of industrialization of our food supply. In Europe, food is more expensive and they are willing to pay for it. The fall-out from the recent hen law in California is that people are crying out over the increase in price of eggs. It’s complicated and it’s going to take time. We’re not going to move from where we were for decades to being cage-free overnight.

Question: What can consumers do to convince businesses to do more for animals?

Answer: Consumers should support brands that are in synch with their own beliefs. That’s the only way significant change will happen. Consumers will drive change with their wallets.  

Question: What advice do you have for businesses considering making the switch to more humane food sources?

Answer: You need to see it for yourself. It’s a case of putting on your boots on and actually seeing what’s been done and how livestock is really being raised. With Panera, when we were diving into the world of animal confinement, we took a cross-departmental team and went on a number of different farm tours. You can spend all day long talking to experts, reading reports and journals, but none of it is as powerful as going to a farm and seeing the different ways in which animals are raised. Once you are exposed to that, you end up making different decisions. And you have to be committed. It takes a lot of work, but I’m glad we’ve followed through with it, it’s been worthwhile.

World Animal Protection thanks John Taylor for taking the time to speak with us!

We’d love to hear what you think of Panera’s new broth bowl with a cage-free egg. Why not go and check it out? Snap a pic and Tweet us @ChooseCageFree Using the hashtag #BrothBowl and tell us what you think!  

Note: Content has been edited for space.