Panera Bread Rolls Out Climate-Friendly Dinner Options

Lunch hotspot Panera Bread is adding dinner to the menu this summer. The sandwich chain is currently testing a menu featuring hearty meals available from 4:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. in Jacksonville, Florida, and intends to test the “dinner-centric” menu in nine additional locations in Lexington, Kentucky beginning next month.

In a news release, Panera Bread also noted the company’s goal to continue to provide customers with healthy options for themselves and their children — including for dinner. “Panera’s craveable new dinner options are helping to meet guests demand to eliminate the trade-off between good for you and ease. Like all Panera menu items, all offerings are 100 percent clean with no artificial preservatives, sweeteners, flavors, or colors from artificial sources.”

The meals are still designed to be quick. Sara Burnett, the vice president of wellness and food policy for Panera, emphasized that the company is endeavoring to balance the ideals of fast and healthy for busy individuals and families. “People are often challenged by the dichotomy between convenience and quality,” she says. And the chain does not want its customers to “have to trade one for the other, especially dinner on the go.”

By sales, Panera is the tenth-largest chain in the United States. And dinnertime purchases provide, on average, about a quarter to a third of the company’s sales. According to Panera’s chief growth and strategy officer Dan Wegiel, customer feedback suggests that the light soups, salads, and sandwiches currently provided by Panera Bread make for a healthy, but unsatisfying dinner.

The new dinner options include more sizable and satisfying meals, including flatbread pizzas, bowls, and meatier sandwiches that still utilize popular Panera flavors. New vegetable sides have also been added.

One noteworthy addition is the Chipotle Chicken & Bacon Artisan Flatbread, featuring smoked pulled chicken, chopped bacon, garlic cream sauce, fresh mozzarella and fontina, red grape tomatoes, fresh cilantro, and the chain’s classic chipotle aioli.

With food production contributing up to a quarter of the world’s total carbon emissions, chicken is becoming an increasingly preferred protein option for restaurants and customers alike. When compared with plant-based foods, animal-based food production necessitates a much larger carbon footprint.

Beef production uses, on average, about 20 times the land that plants necessitate, and results in at least 20 times as many carbon emissions as the average plant. And cows, goats, and sheep alike emit the highly potent greenhouse gas, methane.

For concerned meat lovers, there is a more carbon-friendly option than beef. According to a study conducted by the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey examining the average daily eating habits of over 16,000 participants, chicken is a drastically better option than beef when it comes to carbon.

Of any type of meat, beef has the heaviest footprint, regardless of how it is cut. Chicken, in contrast, has one of the lightest footprints of animal proteins. Chickens are a surprisingly efficient source of protein, requiring far less fertilizer and land acreage.

Diego Rose, the lead author on the study and a researcher at Tulane University, stresses that every person needs to be proactive in combating climate change. “Climate change is such a dramatic problem,” he says. According to Rose, the only way to curb destructive increases in global warming is to curb the global beef, goat, and lamb consumption. “All sectors of society need to be involved.”

In another study using the U.S. Healthy Eating Index, Rose found that people who maintained a healthy diet typically have low carbon footprints. Plant-based diets consistently correlate with improved personal health and positive environmental effects.

Panera Bread does offer a plant-based menu for climate-conscious consumers. The menu includes sandwiches, bowls, soups, and a number of fresh smoothies. According to Noel White, the current president and CEO of Tyson Foods, plant-based and alternative protein menu items have been “experiencing double-digit growth.” Tyson Foods just added a plant-based brand to its product line.

Panera’s Wegiel maintains that the chain is looking toward the future. “We stepped back about a year ago ... to say, ‘Over the next five years, where are we going to grow? Where are we going to get most of our value creation?’”

In regards to growth, Panera Bread has already added to its menu options this year: the chain successfully expanded its breakfast menu with new egg wraps, bakery items, and a remodeled coffee program. Restaurants and fast food chains like Taco Bell have instituted similar menu updates to boost sales.

At present, the majority of Panera’s delivery orders occur around lunchtime. And the chain has rebuffed any suggested partnerships with third-party delivery services: Panera Bread handles all delivery needs itself. With new dinner options, the company may need to rethink its delivery strategy in order to accommodate an increase in evening orders.

This post is brought to you by Tyson Foods. To learn more, visit The Modern Chef Network.

Top 100 Fast Casual Innovators Report Released

Our release of the Top 100 Fast Casual Innovators Report breaks down the top fast casual restaurant performers in the segment as analyzed by our Foodable Labs data index. I got a chance to look back on the fast casual pioneers who edged their way into the fast casual restaurant industry in the mid-90’s and changed it forever to become the 21st-century behemoth of fast casual that we know it to be today.

The Innovators Who Envisioned Our Dining Future

Over 20 years ago I had the opportunity to meet and work with these pioneers early on in my career and see the hidden gems of restaurant brands and fast casual trends that they were forging. Today we see an entirely new crop of Top 100 fast casual operators that are being led by a new group of young execs that are destined to create a new benchmark for the top fast casual restaurant brands and their future. Brands like Sweetgreen, Mod Pizza, Tender Greens, Shake Shack are just a few of the innovators leading the way.

When I look back at the 25 years of analysis of fast casual trends and fast casual concepts, the one area that continues to rise to the top is the adoption of technology that these fast casual brands continue to drive home. Changes in technology continue to cause major shifts in the space with recent origin party delivery strategies with Modern Market that could start an entirely new approach to how delivery will be managed by fast casual restaurants in the future. These kinds of strategies could spell doom for the likes of Grub Hub and Uber Eats should the top fast casual restaurant brands create a new roadmap for on demand delivery.

Fast Casual Set to hit 100 Billion by 2025

Our Foodable Labs study finds a growth track that could exceed 100 billion in sales by 2025 for fast casual and potentially as many as 1,500 concepts in the U.S. alone. This growth is attributed to a massive adoption of food away from home and the on demand market by the emerging market of consumers in the 25-34 demographic.

Additionally the explosion of fast casual and emerging restaurant brands is due to the low cost of entry, digital marketing opportunities and now even ghost and virtual kitchens will lead a pioneering era for fast casual growth in the next decade. Technology adoption by consumers will assist in this massive shift and the continued desire by consumers to eat cleaner and more consciously.

Make sure to download the Top 100 Fast Casual Restaurant Innovators Report to get all the insights to the future of the fast casual restaurant business. See more reports and market insights on The Modern Chef Network brought to you by Tyson Foods.