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Panera plans major menu changes in 2021 and beyond

Panera is planning to offer more vegetarian-friendly items across its entire menu.
/ Source: TODAY

The plant-based movement is making major strides in 2020 and while many restaurant chains are starting to offer meat-like substitutes (we're looking at you, Impossible Whopper), Panera Bread is pledging to make 50% of its menu vegan or vegetarian friendly over the next several years.

But you won't be finding Beyond Meat or Impossible pork on the fast-casual chain's menu.

To achieve its goal of offering more items made without meat, Panera is planning to incorporate more plant-based whole foods (i.e. foods that have not been processed or significantly altered from their natural state) including quinoa and edamame. By 2021, the chain says it will have at least one plant-based option in each of its six menu categories.

Panera first introduced warm grain bowls in 2019.
Panera first introduced warm grain bowls in 2019.Panera Bread

“To keep up with our guest’s interest in plant-based options, Panera plans to increase its plant-based mix of entrees from the current 25% to at least 50% over the next several years,” Sara Burnett, Panera's vice president of wellness and food policy, told TODAY Food via email.

If you're a fan of the chain's popular broccoli-cheddar soup, don't worry. Burnett says the plan is to add more items, not get rid of mainstays.

She added, "As we add more plants to our menu, we will continue to offer responsibly raised, lean animal proteins on our menu so guests can eat the way they want."

"It’s more about better for you, and better for the world, and better for the environment, and better for animals," Panera CEO Niren Chaudhary told Business Insider. "I think consumers are recognizing that — mostly the younger consumers, they feel more accountable for that."

To boost its plant-based offerings year-round, the chain will also be extending some of its limited-edition menu items.

“One example this January is we chose to keep our Autumn Squash Bisque, a customer favorite, on the menu for the winter season. It normally is only offered September through December,” Burnett explained, adding that some locations may test new products before they're rolled out nationwide.

Panera has been touting its versatile menu swaps geared toward different diets for years. For example, any protein on a salad or sandwich can be swapped with a serving of avocado.

Panera currently operates over 2,300 locations in 43 states.