Health

Popeyes Announces Plans To Remove Artificial Ingredients, Antibiotics

With a climate in crisis, consumers around the world have been increasingly mindful of sustainability efforts, both within their own homes and from the companies they patronize. The COVID-19 global pandemic has exacerbated that trend.  

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

In other words, now is as good a time as any for Popeyes to announce new food quality and sustainability commitments as part of a 5-year plan facilitated by parent company Restaurant Brands International.

Those commitments extend from its food to its packaging. The “Restaurant Brands for Good sustainability plan” includes a vow from Popeyes to remove colors, flavors and preservatives from artificial sources from its fried chicken offerings by the end of 2022. The plan includes its signature chicken sandwich, which has dominated headlines since 2019, and has driven meteoric sales and spawned several copycats.

Popeyes’ Global Chief Marketing Officer Paloma Azulay said the chain has conducted “a lot” of taste tests to ensure its ingredient modifications haven’t impacted its products.

“Popeyes is known for its 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. Popeyes menu items will continue to offer the same incredible taste they always have,” Azulay said.

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

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

The industry in general has been moving toward cleaner ingredients since about 2015, when Panera
PNRA
and Papa John’s announced the removal of artificial sources. Other major chains, like Taco Bell, Chipotle, Pizza Hut, Subway and Noodles & Company
NDLS
have made similar commitments. In 2018, McDonald’s
MCD
removed artificial additives from some of its burgers. There’s plenty of motivation for chains here–73% of consumers say they would pay more for a cleaner ingredient list.

As part of its announcement, Popeyes also plans to eliminate antibiotics important to human medicine from its chicken supply chain in the U.S. 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 in a judicious and responsible manner when treatment is necessary, in keeping with veterinary and regulatory requirements,” Azulay said.

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

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

Consumers are paying attention. Datassential’s “The New Healthy Report” finds that 77% of consumers consider antibiotic-free poultry to be a healthier choice, and 60% said a “no antibiotics” label is important while dining out.

Other Popeyes’ initiatives include:

  • Using 100% cage-free eggs in all corporate and franchised restaurants in North America, Western Europe and Latin America by the end of 2025. These regions represent 99% of Popeyes’ global egg volume.
  • Replacing its EPS foam cups with paper cups and requiring all fiber-based packaging to come from certified or recycled sources by the end of 2021. Those sources include the Forest Stewardship Council, the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification or the Sustainable Forestry Initiative.
  • Only using palm oil that is certified by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil –an effort to support deforestation-free supply chains.

“Popeyes is on a journey to support sustainable food production and deforestation-free supply chains. We continue to work with our approved suppliers to source palm oil that does not contribute to deforestation nor the development on peatlands, and protects both High Conservation Value and High Carbon Stock areas through the requirement of RSPO certification and credits,” Azulay said.

These changes might be a sign of where the industry is headed overall, but that doesn’t mean they’ll come cheap, particularly on Popeyes’ relatively tight timelines. Azulay said the chain’s franchisees are responsible for establishing pricing for their respective restaurants.

“However, Popeyes is focused on ensuring competitive pricing within the supply chain in order to ensure guests continue to receive tasty food for a good value,” she said.

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

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

Popeyes will promote its new commitments with a new TV campaign called “Inside the Kitchen,” which highlights its employees providing a behind-the-scenes look at its preparation process.

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