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Panera Bread Picks a Children’s Food Fight With McDonald’s

The Panera founder challenges fast food CEOs to go super-size themselves.

Panera Bread’s founder and CEO Ron Shaich has a pretty fair question for fast food CEOs: would they eat their own kids’ meals? In a new promotional video, Shaich challenged the heads of McDonald’s, Wendy’s, and Burger King to eat exclusively off of their kids’ menu for a week straight. Damn, Shaich.

Now, the video is primarily to promote Panera’s new offering of 250 different “clean” children’s menu combinations and calls out the “nutritional nightmares” such as soda and fries served by their competitors. “What do you think the nutritional content of that food you’d be eating is?” Shaich asks fast-food CEOs in a talk with Business Insider. “Do you feel good about that? And, if you don’t feel good about it, why would you serve it to kids?”

Panera looks to shake up the game with these offerings, which are free of artificial ingredients and can include half-sized portions of almost all of the items on their regular menu. Plus, the company is avoiding the gimmick of using toys to market to kids.

Regardless of the Panera-boosting purpose behind the stunt, the point being made is a strong one. And Panera has good reason to enter the kids’ menu game. In 2016, while pulling in around $6 billion in revenue, McDonald’s was serving up about 3.2 million Happy Meals every day. The Happy Meal is crucial to McDonald’s continued success. But the chain has struggled recently to maintain its kid-appeal, even after addressing concerns about the Happy Meal’s impact on childhood health by changing its menu. Despite adding fresh fruit, such as apple slices and mandarin oranges, families with a child age 12 or under dropped from 18.6 to 14.6 percent of McDonald’s customers from 2011 to 2014. Earlier this week, they announced a switch to organic apple juice, replacing traditional, more sugary juice.

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We’ll have to wait and see if Panera’s new kid-friendly move pulls customers from larger competitors. Either way, it sure is fun to watch big brands squabble. “I can tell you I would happily live off of Panera’s kids menu,” Shaich says. “I wonder what the CEOs of the largest companies in our industry would say.”