Following a successful test run in 2019, the JAB Holding Co.-owned Panera Bread announced Wednesday that they are rolling out three new flatbread pizzas nationwide: cheese, margherita, and chipotle chicken & bacon. The addition of the new pizzas marks the second time in less than a year that Panera has entered a new category in about a year (the first being the grain bowls that the bakery and café chain rolled out as part of their new dinner daypart in 2019).
“We have amazing ingredients that are unique to us and we thought, ‘let’s try some of these on a flatbread,’” Panera chief food innovation officer Claes Petersson said. “When we did the test last year, people loved it and then COVID hit and we suddenly doubled our off-premise, so we thought, ‘okay what can we do with these flatbreads.”
When the original flatbread pizzas were tested in select markets last year, they had a thinner crust and less cheese. They were designed for that “straight out of the oven” experience for on-premise dining, Panera vice president of food values, sustainability, and public affairs Sara Burnett said. The cheese flatbread was not in the original lineup and was added later on to create more universal family-friendly appeal.
To optimize the flatbreads for the delivery-heavy COVID-era, they added extra finely ground flour to double the weight of the dough so that they will stay crispy even after they’ve traveled to a customer’s house. For extra-long delivery trips, the packaging also includes optimal reheating instructions.
Even with the extra weight, each pizza’s crust is “delicate and crispy” and topped with olive oil, a blend of mozzarella and fontina cheese (optimal for melting) and fresh herbs like basil. The sauce is slightly different for each version, Petersson said. For example, for the margherita pizza they add bell peppers to the sauce and top the whole pizza with fresh mozzarella. The chipotle chicken pizza meanwhile, is a nod to fan-favorite Panera sandwich, the Chipotle Chicken Panini, made with chicken, tomatoes, and bacon.
While the introduction of the flatbread pizzas was originally a part of Panera’s foray into the dinner daypart last year, Petersson said that the flatbreads are versatile enough for all times of the day.
“It really does open up all of those occasions and taps into the hot and hearty entrée trends we’ve seen throughout the pandemic,” Burnett said. “We’re seeing those off-premise channels grow significantly. […] If people can’t execute hot and hearty as well at home, they want the ease and convenience of delivery and takeaway.”
If the launch of the new flatbreads is successful, Petersson said that he will take the opportunity to introduce a culture of seasonality to the Panera menu in the future, with different seasonal flatbreads showing up on their menu depending on time of year/ingredient availability.
The new flatbreads start at $7.99 and are rolling out the week of October 28.
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