ST. LOUIS — By the end of 2016, Panera Bread had achieved a milestone months in the making. The food served in the restaurant company’s more than 2,000 bakery-cafes was reformulated to eliminate artificial flavors, artificial preservatives, artificial sweeteners or colors from artificial sources.

Blaine Hurst, Panera
Blaine Hurst, president of Panera Bread

“We are the first and only restaurant brand to commit to such a comprehensive pledge and achieve it,” said Blaine Hurst, president of Panera Bread, during a Feb. 8 earnings call. “In fact, we reformulated 122 menu items.”

At the same time, Panera Bread is focused on further innovating its menu items, Mr. Hurst said.

“The work we did in 2016, including house made dressings and new salads and sandwiches with distinctive flavor profiles, helped to boost sales in both those categories,” he said. “Our chipotle chicken avocado melt, introduced last fall, continues to be our No. 1 bestselling sandwich, proof positive that we are hitting on all the attributes our customer is asking for.”

Bold new sandwich flavors and significant changes in the brand’s salads, bakery items and beverages are all on tap in the year ahead.

“Just know that we are intensely focused on driving desire for Panera through imaginative foods, bakery items and beverages that are both good for you and so delicious,” Mr. Hurst said. “They’re worth going out of your way for.”

Panera Bread’s 2017 winter menu features new entrees, including the Southwest Chicken Tortilla Broth Bowl and Roasted Beet Quinoa & Citrus Salad, plus new desserts and several returning items.

Click for a slideshow of Panera’s 2017 winter menu