Panera drops Charged Lemonade, the subject of multiple wrongful-death lawsuits

Panera drops Charged Lemonade, the subject of multiple wrongful-death lawsuits

Panera Bread is removing Charged Lemonade from its menu, the caffeinated drink that has sparked numerous lawsuits and caused a public relations nightmare for the company.

The Charged Lemonades will be off the menu in the next two weeks, according to Bloomberg, which first reported the news. The chain declined to comment to CNN on the timeline of the drink’s removal.

Panera has faced at least three separate lawsuits over the controversial beverage line in recent months, alleging that high levels of caffeine in the products have caused the deaths of two customers and irreversible health complications in others.

A Panera spokeswoman said new drinks will replace them, including low-sugar and low-caffeine options, including a new blueberry lavender lemonade, pomegranate hibiscus tea, citrus punch and tropical green smoothie.

The Charged Lemonades line was introduced in April 2022, tied to the release of its beverage subscription program that allows people to get as many soft drinks and coffees as they want each day for $10.99 a month. (The price has increased to $14.99 per month.)

Panera is keeping Charged Lemonades on the menu, despite the controversy, because experts say releasing the drink right away could be considered a tacit admission that there was something wrong with it in the first place.

“Often in lawsuits, there’s a knee-jerk reaction among lawyers to do as little as possible publicly because of the vague fear that you’re exposing yourself to additional liability,” crisis PR expert James Haggerty previously told CNN, noting that this approach can adversely affect the market value of a company, sometimes reaching hundreds of millions of dollars.

Haggerty added that it’s a “cost-benefit analysis … the loss of reputational value will often outweigh anything that happens in the courtroom.”

Last month, Panera revamped its offerings with its “biggest menu transformation ever” that refocused its selection on sandwiches, soups, salads and macaroni and cheese. Some items also got the axe, including flat bread, some sweet treats and chili.

“We’re excited to continue the success of our recent menu transformation, which started with our core selection of sandwiches and salads,” a Panera spokesperson said of the revamp. “We listened to more than 30,000 guests about what they wanted from Panera, and in turn focused on a variety of beverages that we knew our guests wanted.”

The change comes as Panera plans to go public again later this year. In November 2023, the chain laid off 18% of its corporate workforce, totaling 300 people, and Reuters recently reported that it is relaxing the standards it sets for its ingredients in an effort to save $20 million annually.

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