The popular fast-casual chain is an example of how the country's shift toward healthy eating is leading to booming business. 
Credit: Photo: Bloomberg / Contributor / Getty

Panera Bread has announced that their rumored merger with JAB, a German holding company, has come to pass. The bakery-cafe chain reached an agreement to be taken over by JAB, with the foreign conglomerate spending $315 per share, for a total of $7.5 billion.

"Panera has been the singular best performing restaurant stock over the past 20 years." said founder and CEO Ron Shaich during a recent Fortune interview. Shaich has claimed that the secret to Panera Bread's success is the chain's commitment to using healthy and "clean" ingredients. 

The current leader of the fast-casual restaurant movement, Panera Bread has made continual strides towards creating wholesome meals and being transparent about their ingredients and processes while doing so.

Below is a simple timeline of how the chain has worked towards giving customers healthy options:

Heath magazine named Panera Bread as America's Healthiest Fast Food Restaurant in 2008. The expert panel chose the chain based on its healthy ingredients like whole-grain breads, offering customers the option to swap an apple for chips, and promoting portion control with half-sized menu items.

Panera Bread made waves in 2010 by being the first fast-casual restaurant to display calorie information on their menus. Studies have found menus that display calorie content can actually reduce the customer's caloric intake by as much as 10 percent.

In 2015 the company released a list of "no no" ingredients that it promised to remove from meals by reformulating their menu and current ingredient suppliers. The brand made good on this promise in 2017, declaring their menu officially "clean", meaning there were no artificial colors, flavors, sweeteners, or preservatives present in any dish, from bakery items to salad dressings.

Most recently, Panera Bread pledged to become the first national fast-casual chain to label added sugars in their beverages. Along with this announcement, they also revealed a line of five new teas to back up their sugar labeling commitment. Customers will be able to choose from drinks that are unsweetened, lightly sweetened (due to natural fruit juices), or medium sweetened (which has 34g or less of added sugar).