Popeyes announces plans to phase out artificial ingredients and antibiotics

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In a climate of crisis, consumers around the world are increasingly attentive to sustainability efforts, both within their own homes and from the businesses they frequent. The global COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated this trend.

Today, 60% of global consumers say they are more concerned about the environment and 42% say they will pay more attention to sustainability claims when shopping for food and drink. Many will also pay more money – 67% of consumers said they would spend more on menu items with verifiable animal welfare standards.

In other words, now is the time for Popeyes to announce new food quality and sustainability commitments as part of a five-year plan facilitated by parent company Restaurant Brands International.

These commitments range from its food to its packaging. The “restaurant brands sustainability plan for the good” includes Popeyes’ vow to remove colors, flavors and preservatives from man-made sources from its fried chicken offerings by the end of 2022. The plan includes its sandwich signature chicken, which has been in the headlines since 2019, and has led to skyrocketing sales and spawned several copycats.

Popeyes chief marketing officer Paloma Azulay said the chain has performed “a lot” of taste tests to ensure that changes to its ingredients have not impacted its products.

“Popeyes is known for great taste and culinary excellence, so evolving the quality and sourcing of our ingredients has always been at the center of what we do while maintaining our classic cooking techniques. The Popeyes menu items will continue to offer the same amazing taste they always have, ”said Azulay.

That said, the chain insists that “real food tastes better”, which is why it is working to eliminate artificial sources.

Popeyes’ engagements follow a similar effort by his sister channel at RBI. In the fall, Burger King announced the removal of artificial ingredients from its signature Whopper, as well as 85% from its menu.

The industry in general has been moving towards cleaner ingredients since around 2015, when Panera

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and Papa John’s announced the removal of artificial sources. Other big chains, like Taco Bell, Chipotle, Pizza Hut, Subway and Noodles & Company

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have made similar commitments. In 2018, McDonald’s

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removed artificial additives from some of its burgers. Chains are highly motivated here: 73% of consumers say they would pay more for a cleaner ingredient list.

As part of its announcement, Popeyes also plans to phase out antibiotics important to human medicine from its chicken supply chain in the United States and Canada by the end of this year. The chain will work with its suppliers throughout the year to implement this new policy.

“We expect our approved chicken suppliers to administer antibiotics judiciously and responsibly when treatment is needed, in accordance with veterinary and regulatory requirements,” said Azulay.

The industry is moving in this direction as well, and a handful of chains have already addressed the use of antibiotics in their chicken supply chains, including Chick-fil-A, McDonald’s, Taco Bell and KFC.

With his large footprint, Popeyes joining this list is a big deal. The practice of distributing medically important antibiotics to livestock and poultry is known to spread antibiotic resistant bacteria, increasing the risk of drug resistant infections in humans. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that nearly 2 million Americans are affected by antibiotic-resistant infections each year, and at least 23,000 die as a direct result.

Consumers are paying attention. Datassential’s “New Healthy Report” reveals that 77% of consumers consider antibiotic-free poultry a healthier choice, and 60% said a “no antibiotics” label is important in restaurants.

Other Popeyes initiatives include:

  • Use 100% cage-free eggs in all corporate and franchise restaurants in North America, Western Europe and Latin America by the end of 2025. These regions account for 99% of the global volume of Popeyes eggs.
  • Replace its EPS foam cups with paper cups and require all fiber-based packaging to come from certified or recycled sources by the end of 2021. These sources include the Forest Stewardship Council, the Program for the Endorsement of Forest Certification or the Sustainable Forestry Initiative.
  • Use only palm oil certified by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil – an effort to support deforestation-free supply chains.

“Popeyes is on the road to supporting sustainable food production and deforestation-free supply chains. We continue to work with our licensed suppliers to source palm oil that does not contribute to deforestation and peatland development, and protects both high conservation value and high carbon areas through the RSPO certification and credits requirement, ”Azulay said.

These changes may be a sign of the general direction of the industry, but that doesn’t mean they’ll be cheap, especially in Popeyes’ relatively tight timeline. Azulay said the chain’s franchisees are responsible for setting the prices for their respective restaurants.

“However, Popeyes is focused on ensuring competitive prices within the supply chain to ensure that customers continue to receive tasty food for good value,” she said.

Popeyes has been working on these commitments with its suppliers and franchisees for over two years. Now is the right time to act, says Azulay, given the “ever-changing” needs of consumers and the environment.

“Popeyes and RBI understand the important role companies like ours play in helping to create a more sustainable world and we are committed to acting responsibly,” she said.

Popeyes will promote his new commitments with a new TV campaign called “Inside the Kitchen,” which shines the spotlight on his employees by giving them a behind-the-scenes look at his preparation process.

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