ST. LOUIS — A little more than 10 years after its first attempt fell flat, Panera Bread Co. is once again adding pizza to its menu, part of the bakery-cafe chain’s efforts to attract more customers who are opting for off-premises food options.
Panera said new flatbread pizzas feature extra finely ground flour for a delicate yet crisp crust, topped with hearty ingredients, including fresh mozzarella and fresh cilantro and basil. The pizzas are available for $7.99 in three varieties: cheese, Margherita and chipotle chicken and bacon.
“At Panera, baking is at the core of who we are and what we’re known for — we knew that we had all the elements to bring our delicious, hearty flatbreads to life,” said Claes Petersson, chief food and innovation officer at Panera. “With the launch of flatbread pizza, we are looking to redefine the expectation of pizza and carve out a niche for Panera in the pizza category. Our flatbread pizzas encompass the best of what Panera has to offer: clean, delicious ingredients from our pantry on top of oven-baked flatbread that is expertly crafted for our guests.”
Eduardo Luz, chief brand and concept officer at Panera, said the company anticipates pizza will become a strong anchor for Panera’s growing dinner business. Pre-COVID, Panera had started to invest in the dinner business, a daypart that without much historical dedication had represented more than 30% of the company's sales, he said.
“Our guests choose Panera because they want to eat delicious food, that they can feel great about eating,” Mr. Luz said. “Flatbread pizzas — done the Panera way — are the perfect offering for this moment and beyond. Our guests have been asking for this for years. We think Panera’s bread heritage and outstanding ingredients meet both the desire for high-quality, crafted pizza as well as a growing customer off-premise behavior.”
Flatbread pizzas become the second new category Panera has entered over the past year, joining warm grain bowls, which were introduced in September 2019 as part of the company’s next step in its mission to offer more grains, plants and proteins on its menu. But it is not the first time Panera has experimented with a pizza-like product. The bakery-cafe chain in 2006 introduced a menu item called Crispani, which was a flatbread crust pizza offered in six varieties exclusively after 4 p.m. Panera shelved the pizza after two years, saying the product was popular but was too labor intensive.
During a Feb. 13, 2008, conference call with analysts, then Panera chief executive officer Ron Shaich said the removal of Crispani was part of the company’s “three-prong plan of action” to strengthen the business over the next two years.
“As with everything, we took great learning from the failure of this product,” Mr. Shaich said of the Crispani launch. “We know that despite a great product, we simply did not have the marketing muscle or the staying power to engage the customer such that they saw Panera as a place for pizza.”