Panera Bread Finally Goes Gluten Free; Why Did it Take So Long?

Oct 20, 2015 12:34 PM EDT | By Althea Serad

The gluten free trend continues, and now there is another chain getting into the game, albeit a little later. Panera Bread is unveiling their new, gluten free, Rosemary Focaccia Roll late October in Michigan, according to Food Beast.

A national-fast casual restaurant specializing in freshly baked goods, Panera Bread began testing on the Rosemary Focaccia Roll last week to cater to gluten-free loving customers. Panera will eventually feature the new product nationwide sometime in the second half of 2016, reports claim.

In the U.S., only an estimated 1 percent is allergic to gluten. Despite this, gluten-free food became a trend, with gluten-free products rising in popularity in recent years.

According to the Specialty Food Association, more than half of the specialty food manufacturing population see gluten free products above in the priority list for innovation.

"There is clearly consumer interest and demand for gluten-free items, and their taste and quality has vastly improved," Louise Kramer, communications director for the Specialty Food Association, said. "The question is whether this will have staying power as a long-term trend, versus a dietary fad."

So why did it take long for Panera Bread to get into the trend?

First, it is important to point out what gluten is. It is a protein which can be found in wheat and other grains. It provides the needed elasticity that dough has and which also helps bread to rise and retain shape. For this reason, creating a gluten free product is extremely tricky.

"I went kicking and screaming into the world of gluten-free bread as an artisan baker," Tom Gumpel, Panera's head baker, said. "There is little to no good-tasting gluten-free bread in this country, and I've eaten about every slice there is."

Gumpel said that Panera's slow adaptation to the trend was because it had been difficult to find a product they are happy with.

"A lot of people might have beat us to the game but go taste the stuff that's out there," said Gumpel said. He added that other manufacturers use artificial ingredients, gums, and chemicals to duplicate the elasticity that gluten offers.

In the end, Panera decided to simply create a focaccia roll instead of a loaf of bread. Panera Bread's focaccia roll contains white sorghum from Africa, with studs of sprouted broccoli, chia, as well as flax seeds for the loaf texture, according to Yahoo.

The website, which was able to get a preview of the roll, claims that the new product is chewy in texture and has been made and coated with olive oil, giving it a sort of greasy feel. The flavor of the roll improves when toasted, having become nuttier and richer.

The bread is now called "gluten-conscious" by Panera since the company has decided the product to be stored and served with their regular offerings. Yahoo reports that it will cost $1.50 more in test regions, 75 cents more as a side choice, and will cost $1 each on retail.

Meanwhile, other gluten free options are available at your local Whole Foods.

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