Established in 1981, US bakery chain Panera Bread operates more than 1,800 company-owned and franchise-operated cafes across 45 states in the US and recently expanded into Ontario, Canada in June this year.
Tom Gumpel, vice president of bakery development at Panera Bread, said despite widespread carb avoidance and gluten-free trends, business remained strong because there was still a mass of consumers who valued bread.
The chain’s most important consumer group in dollar sale terms was women aged 25-44; representing 18% of business footfall but 40% of total dollars, he told attendees at the AACCI’s 2014 annual meeting in Providence, Rhode Island.
These consumers, known as Panera’s ‘engaged food influencer’ or EFI, valued bread as an important part of a balanced diet, he said.
What do EFIs want?
EFI consumers wanted inventive, healthy and fresh baked goods, Gumpel said, as well as quality, craft, social responsibility and indulgence when worth it.
It was these factors, the bakery sector had to focus on and were really great pillars to build a brand on, he said.
“You’ve got to stand strong on bread. If you sit back and look at a balanced diet and what our EFI is telling us, there’s no need to apologize anymore.”
“…You’ll see in this coming year, we’re taking back bread. We can’t sit by anymore and continue to get bombarded with these books and messages about bread being bad for you – it’s a bigger story than that,” he said.
Baking fresh and going healthy for EFIs
Responding to consumer feedback was critical for successful growth, Gumpel said, particularly highly-engaged consumers like EFIs. “The whole notion of ‘build it and they will come’ is not the way it works.”
One piece of feedback from EFI consumers had been confusion over fresh baking, Gumpel said. A large majority of them (72%) didn’t realize Panera bread was baked fresh by the company, for example.
“So, by the end of this year, every Panera bread will have baking going on throughout the day,” he said.
In addition, EFI consumers wanted health, Gumpel said, which had prompted Panera’s food policy launched in June this year that pledged to remove chemical flavors, colors, additives by December 2016.
“That is probably the hardest piece of work we’ll ever face, especially on the bakery side.”