"Engaged food influencers" are mostly women, ages 25 to 44, who represent 18% of Panera's customers and drive almost 40% of dollars spent at the bakery-café chain.


PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Panera Bread Co. has given one customer category a name. “EFI” likes artisan product, wants to know where ingredients come from and is socially responsible.

“We are always working toward our EFI,” said Tom Gumpel, vice-president of bakery development, Oct. 6 at AACC International’s annual meeting in Providence. “EFI is who we live our life around.”

EFI stands for “engaged food influencer,” a consumer category that involves people age 25 to 44, mostly women. EFI represents 18% of Panera’s customers but drives almost 40% of the dollars spent at Panera cafes. An EFI customer might come to Panera three to five times per week while the average customer might come in twice a quarter, he said.

Despite the gluten-free trend and books telling people not to eat bread, EFI still comes to Panera.

“She values bread and finds it an important part of a balanced diet,” Mr. Gumpel said.

Panera Bread might experiment with letting EFI see how the bread is made. A baker might be working and visible to customers while the bakery is open. Currently, bakers work at night and are asleep by the time the cafe opens the next morning, Mr. Gumpel said.

He added Panera appeals to EFI by sourcing its own ingredients in some cases.

“We grow the lettuce,” Mr. Gumpel said. “We grow them in the fields. We wash them in the fields. We put them on our trucks. We send them to where the bread is made. ”

The lettuce then is shipped to Panera cafes. While lettuce at the supermarket might be two weeks old, lettuce at Panera is 5 or 6 days old, he said.

“That’s what fresh means,” he said, and added the cream cheese at the cafes is blended and flavored in Panera facilities.

St. Louis-based Panera Bread Co. in June of this year said it intends to remove artificial additives (colors, flavors, sweeteners and preservatives) from its bakery-cafe food menu by the end of 2016.

“That is probably the hardest piece of work we’ll ever face,” Mr. Gumpel said.