Panera Aims to Satisfy Changing Diner Habits With New Pizza Offering

The chain wants to be as synonymous with flatbread pizza as it is with soups and salads

panera flatbread pizza
Panera is adding flatbread pizza to its menu, an entirely new category for the chain. Panera Bread
Headshot of Richard Collings

When diners think of Panera, they usually associate the brand with its staple menu items: soups, salads, sandwiches, baked goods and coffee.

Beginning today, the fast-casual chain hopes to entice customers with an entirely new category: flatbread pizza, the latest addition to its menu.

The new offering is an aim to bolster sales as Panera hopes to satisfy consumers’ changing dining habits due to the Covid-19 pandemic, which includes eating later in the day and gravitating toward cost-saving options that can feed an entire family, according to the company’s chief brand and concept officer Eduardo Luz.

“Our guests have been asking us to do this for quite some time,” Luz told Adweek of the move.

Diners can choose from three different options—cheese, margherita, and chipotle chicken and bacon—with prices starting at $7.99.

“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, Panera’s newly appointed head chef and chief food and innovation officer, in a statement.

To make way for pizza, Panera was already in the process of simplifying its menu, so it expects to be able to keep pace with the volume of orders, Luz said.

The new menu items are made from ingredients Panera already has in stock and are differentiated from key competitors by incorporating a crisp flatbread crust that is more similar to what you’d find in Italy, he said.

Testing of the product began last year, and it turns out pizza not only pairs well with the chain’s soups and salads, but is also a natural fit for off-premise dining, which has become all the more popular in 2020 as consumers opt for delivery and pickup and menu items that are hot and sharable, Luz explained.

“We believe the time to launch is perfect,” he said.

Panera has doubled its delivery business, said Luz, with more than half of its sales generated from off-premise channels. He added that though pizza is popular during both lunch and dinner, the restaurant chain anticipates the menu offering will be “a strong anchor” for its growing dinner business. Pre-Covid, the evening segment constituted more than 30% of sales.

To promote its pizza, next week Panera is unveiling what Luz describes as a fully integrated 360-degree marketing campaign created by ad agency Goodby Silverstein & Partners out of Los Angeles, with the media mix balanced between traditional and digital channels such as television, outdoors, social and search.

The idea is to “visually tell the story of what Panera represents,” mixing in a little bit of art, magic and love, he said, adding that the fast-casual chain may have a surprise in the offing along the lines of singer Michael Bolton’s ode to its broccoli cheddar mac and cheese.

Luz declined to comment either on marketing spend for the campaign or on pizza sales projections.

@RichCollings Richard Collings is a retail reporter at Adweek.