Panera ‘celebrating the classics’

by Eric Schroeder
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ST. LOUIS — Don’t expect “Born to Run” bread or “Badlands” bagels to grace the menu at Panera Bread Co. anytime soon, but Ron Shaich, chairman and chief executive officer of Panera, does expect the bakery-cafe chain to borrow from “The Boss’s” playbook.

“Our thinking is not unlike a Bruce Springsteen concert, in which he mixes in his classics with some of his newer songs,” Mr. Shaich said during a Feb. 19 conference call with analysts to discuss fiscal 2013 results.

Beginning this week, he said Panera is “celebrating our classics,” an initiative that has the bakery-cafe featuring longtime customer favorites on its menu as pick-two options. Kicking off the program will be the addition of a chipotle chicken Panini and broccoli cheddar soup. In April, Panera will celebrate its bacon turkey bravo sandwich and macaroni and cheese as pick-two options.

“We thought it was important to focus on our customers’ favorites for the celebrations, as a way to energize our base, if you will, and stimulate that crave-ability around our offerings,” Mr. Shaich said.

It’s not all about the classics, though. This spring, Panera plans to introduce new flatbread sandwiches.

“We are very excited about this, as our version of the flatbread will be unique to Panera, with fresh, baked in the cafe artisan bread in the style of an Indian tandoori,” Mr. Shaich said. “These sandwiches will feature quality proteins and bold flavor profiles that allow us to better experiment with new seasoning and new spices. Our flatbreads provide customers the option to choose their portion size, which supports the broader perception of value on our new menus.”

He said the flatbread launch may help open up “a more robust snacking platform for Panera, and add some muscle to our gathering place business, which runs across multiple day parts.”

“Moreover, flatbreads will allow us to better tap into growing interest in international and regional cuisines, and we believe that they will resonate with a younger audience, particularly among millennials and Gen Xers,” he said.

The flatbread launch initially will launch with three varieties: Thai chicken, Mediterranean chicken and Southwestern chicken.

Panera will look for the classic products to pair with new menu items to continue strong earnings and revenue momentum in fiscal 2014.

Net income in the year ended Dec. 31, 2013, was $196,169,000, equal to $6.85 per share on the common stock, up 13% from $173,448,000, or $5.94 per share, in fiscal 2012. Results for fiscal 2013 included a 13c-per-share benefit from an additional operating week.

Revenues totaled $2,385,002,000, up 12% from $2,130,057,000.
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