Panera Ditches Charged Lemonade Following Series of Lawsuits

By: Beth Moreton | Published: May 14, 2024

When Panera first introduced its charged lemonade drinks to its menu, many fans of the brand were excited by the colorful fizzy drinks and flavors they had on offer.

However, this has come at a cost. Several of Panera’s customers have filed lawsuits against the company after its lemonade is believed to have caused two deaths and severe long-term health conditions in others. All of these have resulted in the fizzy drinks being permanently removed from their menu. 

Panera Is No Longer Affordable

Panera was once seen as an affordable lunch location for people to go during work hours or when out shopping with friends. It is also one of the healthier options of fast food chains, with a selection of soups, salads and sandwiches.

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The entrance to a Panera store.

Source: Motwog/Wikimedia Commons

However, long gone are the days when you could go to Panera and buy a You-Pick-Two meal that cost between $6.49 and $7.99. If you were to buy the same meal today, it would cost you more than $16. 

Panera Is Not Exempt From California’s Minimum Wage Laws

Food in many fast-food chains has increased in price due to California’s new minimum wage laws. In April 2024, minimum wage workers’ pay went from $16 an hour to $20 an hour.

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The outside of a Panera drive thru.

Source: Miosotis Jade/Wikimedia Commons

At one point, Panera tried to get around the new wage laws, and it had previously been reported that it was exempt from the law. However, things have now changed, and it has to pay its employees the new minimum wage, which will likely mean further price hikes and menu changes. 

Panera’s Charged Lemonade Flavors

Panera first introduced its charged lemonade to its menu in 2022. The hope was that the bright colors and unique flavors would attract more customers, and the promise of caffeine would encourage customers to get their energy boost from the fast food chain.

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The Panera charged lemonades in clear plastic cups. All three cups have ice inside. One on the left is dark pink, the middle is light pink, and the right is orange.

Source: @ABC21WPTA/X

Panera’s charged lemonade flavors included blood orange (which was also zero sugar), strawberry lemon mint and mango yuzu citrus. This is alongside its other fizzy beverages, with the charged drinks containing anywhere from 155 to 302mg of caffeine. 

Safe Amount of Daily Caffeine

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has outlined a safe amount of caffeine to consume per day. This is around 400mg, however, this is usually over a few cups of coffee stretched out throughout the day.

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Caffeine. It looks like white powder and is on top of a white surface.

Source: Rafti Institute/Wikimedia Commons

Panera customers were having up to three-quarters of their daily caffeine allowance in just one of its charged lemonade drinks. It is also worth noting that this is the safe daily amount for a healthy adult, so a safe amount might be lower for those who are pregnant or with other medical conditions. 

A University Student Died in 2022

The first death of a Panera customer who had consumed one of its charged lemonades was 21-year-old University of Pennsylvania student Sarah Katz. The death happened just a few months after the charged lemonades were put on the menu.

One of the buildings at the University of Pennsylvania. It is behind a tree with purple flowers growing out of it. People are walking past the building.

Source: @uofpenn/Instagram

The lawsuit claimed the drink contained 390mg of caffeine. It might be worth noting that Katz had QT syndrome type 1, which caused irregular heart rhythms. This meant she would avoid energy drinks. However, the lawsuit claimed the lemonade wasn’t properly advertised. 

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A 46-Year-Old Died a Few Months Later

After Katz’s death, a 46-year-old named Dennis Brown, who lived in Fleming Island, Florida, also died of cardiac arrest when he was on his way home after consuming three charged lemonade drinks from Panera.

A blood pressure cuff around a person’s arm. The number on the monitor reads as 129.

Source: Mufid Majnun/Unsplash

A subsequent lawsuit said that Brown had high blood pressure, which meant that he generally tried to avoid consuming energy drinks due to the high amounts of caffeine in them. 

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Charged Lemonades Included a Warning Label

After the deaths of Katz and Brown, Panera decided to include a warning label on its charged lemonades to warn customers of the amount of caffeine in the drinks so they could make a more informed choice when purchasing.

Two orange charged lemonades in plastic cups. They are on top of a warning that says, “Contains caffeine - consume in moderation. Not recommended for children, people sensitive to caffeine, pregnant or nursing women.”

Source: @ABC7/X

The warning label also indicated that customers should only drink the drink in moderation and that the product was not recommended to children, people sensitive to caffeine and pregnant or nursing women. 

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Panera Customer With Permanent Heart Problems

After the two Panera customer deaths and the subsequent lawsuits that came with it, a third customer sued the company in 2023. Drinking the charged lemonades had caused them to have permanent heart problems.

A green sign with a white heart in the center. A green lightning bolt is in the heart's center, and a white plus sign is above it.

Source: Louis Bauer/Pexels

The lawsuit was made by a 28-year-old woman who previously had no health conditions and was perfectly healthy. However, she began having symptoms after drinking two charged lemonades, so she decided to go to the doctor, where heart problems were discovered.

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Charged Lemonades Were Advertised as Being Healthy

The main reason why all of these people, and likely countless others, decided to buy the charged lemonades was because Panera had advertised them as being clean and plant-based.

A charged lemonade station in a Panera store. There are plastic cups behind the sign. The sign for the three charged lemonade notes each one is naturally flavored and plant-based.

Source: @RollingStone/X

However, due to the sheer amount of caffeine in each drink, many now believe this to be false advertising and have been more cautious about buying the drinks. 

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Panera Has Removed Charged Lemonade From Its Menu

Due to the lawsuits, Panera has now decided to remove all of its charged lemonade drinks from its menu. It is unknown when this change will happen, but it is expected to happen within the next two weeks.

Three clear plastic containers of the Panera charged lemonades are displayed. Signs identify each one: fuji apple cranberry, strawberry lemon mint and mango yuzu citrus.

Source: @iiiitsandrea/X

This comes after Panera made the decision in January 2024 to remove the charged lemonade drinks from its self-serve foundations as an extra precautionary measure.

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Panera Is Replacing Its Charged Lemonade Drinks

Due to charged lemonade being removed from the menu, this has led many to question what the fast food chain could possibly be replacing it with.

Three new 2024 menu items at Panera. There are Mediterranean chicken greens with grains, a toasted Italiano and a tomato basil BLT.

Source: @AddingPennies/X

Panera began transforming its menu in February 2024 with nine new menu items. It recently introduced bacon mac and cheese pasta and plans on introducing blueberry lavender lemonade, pomegranate hibiscus tea and a tropical green smoothie. 

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