When diners think of Panera, they usually associate the brand with its main menu items: soups, salads, sandwiches, baked goods and coffee.
As of today, the fast-casual chain hopes to seduce customers with a completely new category: flatbread pizza, the latest addition to its menu.
The new offering is set to increase sales as Panera aims to cater to changing consumer eating habits due to the Covid-19 pandemic. That includes eating later in the day and focusing on cost-saving options that can support an entire family, the company's Chief Brand and Concept Officer, Eduardo Luz.
"Our guests have asked us for it for some time," Luz said to Adweek about the move.
Guests can choose from three different options – cheese, margherita, chipotle chicken, and bacon – with prices starting at $ 7.99.
"At Panera, baking is at the heart of who we are and what we are known for. We knew we had all the elements to bring our delicious, hearty flatbreads to life," said Claes Petersson, Panera's newly appointed Chef and Chief Food and Innovation Officer, in a statement.
To make room for pizza, Panera was already in the process of simplifying its menu and so expects to keep up with the order volume, Luz said.
The new menu items are made from ingredients Panera already has in stock and set it apart from major competitors by having a crispy flatbread crust more similar to that in Italy, he said.
Testing of the product began last year and it turned out that pizza not only goes well with the chain's soups and salads, but is also a natural addition to off-premise restaurants that have become all the more popular in 2020, when consumers opt for delivery and pickup and menu items that are hot and divisible, Luz explained.
"We think the time to start is perfect," he said.
Panera has doubled its delivery business, Luz said. More than half of its sales were generated through off-premise channels. He added that while pizza is popular for both lunch and dinner, the restaurant chain believes the menu offering will be "a strong anchor" for the growing dinner business. Before Covid, the evening segment accounted for more than 30% of sales.
To promote its pizza, Panera is launching a fully integrated 360-degree marketing campaign next week created by Los Angeles-based advertising agency Goodby Silverstein & Partners. The media mix is balanced between traditional and digital channels such as outdoor television, social and search.
The idea is to "visually tell the story of Panera" while mixing a bit of art, magic and love, he said, adding that the fast-casual chain might have a surprise based on singer Michael Bolton's ode Broccoli Cheddar Mac and Cheese.
Luz declined to comment on either the marketing spend for the campaign or the forecast for pizza sales.
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