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Panera CEO: We Can Never be the Food Police

“Panera can never be the food police,” says Panera CEO Blaine Hurst in a recent interview. “That is not even our mantra. We have got to be the brand that is relentlessly pursuing better eating....
Panera CEO: We Can Never be the Food Police
Written by Rich Ord

“Panera can never be the food police,” says Panera CEO Blaine Hurst in a recent interview. “That is not even our mantra. We have got to be the brand that is relentlessly pursuing better eating.”

Blaine also announced that Panera is about to begin “the most extensive renovation and remodeling of Panera Cafes that’s ever been undertaken in our brand.” This is a back to basics strategy that is following years of tremendous investment in technology by Panera.

Blaine Hurst, CEO of Panera, discussed the company’s strategy in a recent interview on CNBC:

Panera is in a Pretty Good Place Going Forward

We did see a slight slowdown versus expectation in September, but what’s been amazing to me, as we look at our two-year comp which is our two-year trended sales, we have actually seen a real pickup actually in the last few weeks. Some of this may have been that our volumes are so high in September that we may have been challenged just to handle the volume.

We don’t see this as a long-term downturn in the consumer, at least not Panera’s consumer. We also compare our sales to the black box all composite industry comps and we continue to dramatically outperform the trends that we’re seeing from other folks. I think Panera is actually in a pretty good place going forward.

Tougher to Find Great People than it’s Ever Been

Finding employees is a challenge for everybody in our industry without a question. The good news for Panera is because of who Panera is, what we stand for, what our brand stands for, and what we’ve done over the years, I think we’re in a better place than most.

That being said, our turnover levels are well below the industry and it is tougher out there to find the great people that we’re looking for at Panera than it’s ever been. I do think that’s an overall trend and we are not completely immune to that trend. With our new channels that we’ve launched, the new product categories that we’ve launched, we seem to at least be on the positive side of that trend.

We Spent a Lot of Time, Treasure, and Talent on Technology

We spent a lot of time, treasure, and talent on technology and the differentiation of Panera across the channels. Then our clean initiative, which frankly was not quite as inexpensive when we look at the total system costs as we had all hoped it would be, but it was the right thing to do. That was pretty much all we could do as a public company.

Beginning the Most Extensive Renovation of Panera Cafes Ever

As a private company, we actually are now able to talk about making investments around a longer-term strategy. For example, in 2019 we will begin the most extensive renovation and remodeling of Panera Cafes that’s ever been undertaken in our brand. I’m not sure as a public company we probably could have done that, but as a private company, it’s like that makes sense, we’ve got to do it, it’s not an option.

Panera Can Never be the Food Police

Panera can never be the food police. That is not even our mantra. We have got to be the brand that is relentlessly pursuing better eating. I think a part of that is options, which clearly we have delivered through our apps and other things, but also through transparency.

What we started talking about earlier this week was the amount of whole-grain in our breads. It’s only six of our products, but we think it’s important to talk about that and give people that insight as they make their choices.

Further with our launch of Food Interrupted, which is a video series delivered through Facebook Watch, we think that is just simply helping our consumers to make better choices with better information. In no way will we say do this, don’t do that. Literally, this entire video series has very little mention of Panera. We are specifically communicating through storytelling what better eating could be in America of the future.

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