Panera Bread Wants to Be Everywhere. Panera’s move into dinner could attract new clients. In recent months, Panera Bread has announced several new initiatives aimed at expanding its reach-efforts which will continue to unfold as Panera works to get involved with more locations and serve more customers at more occasions.
“This brand posseses an incredibly high emotional relationship with our target customers,” says Dan Wegiel, the company’s EVP and chief growth and strategy officer. “That’s something which is a massive asset for all of us and we want to keep these.”
Having a wide appeal among consumers and deep relevance among loyal fans, Panera executives see a lot of runway for future expansion and a great deal of possibilities to further ingrain the brand into customers’ daily lives.
Much of the brand’s recent evolution has occurred since JAB Holding Company acquired Panera in 2017 for $7.5 billion. Since that time, rapid-casual giant has made big news: In April, it rolled out a whole new slate of breakfast menu items aimed at winning share from competitors who frequently offer frozen, microwaved food items throughout the breakfast daypart. That effort included a revamped coffee program that mirrors the standard and technology offered by big coffee houses. In June, the manufacturer launched an exam of a dinner menu which includes artisan flatbreads, bowls and hearty side stuff like sweet potato mash. And simply at the end of August, panera near me turned more heads because it finally embraced third-party delivery partners after years of staying with its in-house delivery program.
So, what do the collective moves inform us about where Panera goes?
“The strategic thread that holds all those things together is that this: this brand features a very unique opportunity inside our minds within the food and restaurant space to have broad relevance to a fairly broad group of target customers,” Wegiel says. “It’s one of the few brands that operates across all dayparts, all week parts and multiple channels of access.”
While those changes came after JAB’s acquisition, he says, the European conglomerate empowered those efforts, not mandated them.
“JAB features a very explicit and clear philosophy they believe individual companies and brands really should shape their destiny and destination,” he says. “Unlike a few other investment firms they don’t are available in having a playbook and say here’s how you can create value or say here’s the portfolio and here’s where we could create synergies …That’s very much the antithesis of how they operate.”
Panera and third-party delivery? It fits the fast casual’s goal to satisfy customers everywhere.
Still, Panera has experienced been able to lean on the expertise of sister brands beneath the JAB umbrella-and vice versa. The business owns several coffee concepts, including Peet’s Coffee and Caribou Coffee. That was useful when researching approaches to revamps Panera’s coffee offerings, Wegiel says. However, JAB urged Panera to strengthen its self-branded coffees, not adopt the banner of some other JAB brand.
Advancing, Panera desires to create more access points into the brand. To that particular end, the company will expand traditional and nontraditional stores. Wegiel wouldn’t share specific store growth projections but says there exists “ample room” to incorporate both international and domestic units. Likewise, Panera goes deeper on its lines of consumer packaged goods. Customers can currently find salad dressings, soups, breads, and coffee in food store aisles. But the brand thinks it may expand both the number of products and the number of distribution points.
“CPG inside our minds could be a significant lever of new growth,” he says. “I think we’re just scratching the outer lining.”
Panera is definitely a holdout with regards to the third-party delivery services that have transformed much of the restaurant space. The company has offered in-house delivery for years. However in late August, the chain announced new partnerships with DoorDash, Grubhub and Uber Eats that expanded delivery choices across 1,600 of their 2,300 or so stores. The company believes adopting those services will help recruit new clients.
“We’ve been in delivery for that better part of 5 years,” Weigel says. “We realized and heard from your aggregators that there was an entire segment of customers that wanted Panera, but their primary source or delivery was the aggregators and we weren’t there.”
Whether in delivery, a reimagined breakfast menu or CPG options, Panera is working to reach customers across multiple dayparts and occasions.
“We know there’s tremendous need for the brand, some of which is extremely pent up,” Weigel says. “There are areas consumers want us where we’re not.”
“While they could possibly possess some incremental business at dinner time, it’s never going to be overpowering. Once these brand identities are established and known, it merely takes forever to move the needle.” – John Gordon, principal and founder of Pacific Management Consulting Group.
While Panera accelerates change, don’t expect any wholesale transformation. The company plans to stay with its core brand identity that focuses on clean ingredients and wellness, while holding onto its more indulgent bakery and menu items.
“Wellness is not just about maintaining a healthy diet. It plays a role … Somebody that is trying to eat well is usually seeking to balance things,” Wegiel says. “We offer optionality because wellness is all about completeness within the balance of fulfillment.”
A number of Panera’s moves-such as the reimagined breakfast and coffee program-look more routine than transformational to John Gordon, principal and founding father of Pacific Management Consulting Group.
“Every good operator needs to be doing that,” he says.
He views Panera’s flirtation with dinner, though, as being a bolder move. He recalled the brand’s 2006 introduction of the Crispani, a handmade pizza product available only in the evenings. That offering was meant to push the manufacturer further into the dinner daypart but low sales caused Panera to tug the pizzas in 2008.
“It’s just tough because Panera was known but still is actually a soup, salad, sandwich and breakfast place,” Gordon says. “Dinner is really a substantial daypart for them, although not the top of the mind daypart.”
To ramp up evening sales, he believes Panera must launch a flagship dinner product. But he thinks the brand’s bakery-cafe identity will always be intact.
“While they might be able to possess some incremental business at dinner time, it’s not going to be overpowering,” he says. “Once these brand identities are established and known, it simply takes forever to move the needle.”
Like all privately held concepts, Panera’s financial performance is difficult to ascertain since its purchase by JAB. But Gordon says the company still looks strong. It’s a proven operator using a widespread appeal. And Panera enjoys white ypbonx to cultivate its footprint domestically and internationally.
“They have solidified their position in the United States within the last 10 years without a doubt,” he says. “I have a lot of respect for Panera being an operator. In various restaurant brand surveys, Panera shows up very high and contains an extremely strong company operation and franchisee operation.”