For years, Panera Bread has been known as primarily a lunch and breakfast-centric fast-casual restaurant, but as the JAB Holding brand continues to emphasize its commitment to health and nutrition, Panera is also expanding beyond its soup, salad and sandwich horizons with the introduction of a new menu category: grain bowls. The first two additions to this category — the Baja and Mediterranean warm grain bowls — are making their debut on Panera menus nationwide this month.
The Baja grain bowl is made with cilantro-lime long grain brown rice, quinoa, black bean and corn salsa, salsa verde, grape tomatoes, avocado, feta and Greek yogurt. The Mediterranean grain bowl has a similar structure, made also with the cilantro-lime rice and quinoa, over a bed of arugula, with grape tomatoes, Kalamata olives, cucumbers, hummus, lemon tahini dressing, feta and Greek yogurt.
“Finding that sweet spot of [tastes] good and good for you has been the complement to the challenge we’ve been trying to solve for our guests who don’t want to compromise taste for healthfulness,” Sara Burnett, vice president of wellness and food policy at Panera Bread said. “Depending on where you are, bowls may not be on your radar. Panera can combine our pantry and deliver the grain bowl to everyone across the country.”
The new menu items are meant to appeal to the increasingly popular “flexitarian” lifestyle because although both bowls can be topped with grilled citrus pepper chicken, they still have 17 grams of protein without meat.
“We can bring trends nationally because we’re relevant across the country and across all sorts of geographic margins,” Dan Wegiel, chief growth and strategy officer at Panera said. “I think [these grain bowls] make us even more relevant to consumers and will resonate strongly with a younger demographic.”
The introduction of the grain bowls is just one part of the menu evolution Panera Bread has announced. In June, the St. Louis, Miss.-based company announced the test of a new 10-item dinner menu, complete with hot sandwiches, flatbreads, and bowls. Much like the grain bowls, the dinner menu items are meant to be “hot, hearty, and filling,” or at least more so than a typical soup and salad combo lunch.
Wegiel emphasized that the grain bowls are not a part of the dinner program because they have been in development much longer and will be available all day.
Although in consumer testing, the Baja and Mediterranean bowls rose to the top as the favorites among guests, there’s more to come in the future for this long term platform:
“We kept about 20 versions of other grain bowl varieties and feel that we have a pipeline of other flavors we can turn to,” Sara Burnett said. “The concept is basically warm grains with vegetables and a bold sauce and we think we can rotate these seasonally.”
The Panera grain bowls are priced at $9.19 without chicken and $9.89 with chicken.