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panera-bread-store.jpeg Panera Bread
Panera Bread might be gearing up for an IPO this year.

Panera sees traffic surge ahead of menu overhaul and possible IPO launch

The restaurant chain’s traffic has gone up 5.2% year-over-year— its biggest traffic growth spurt in almost a year — amid major changes to the brand

As Panera Bread is in the midst of a major brand transformation, traffic for the St. Louis-based company is up 5.2% year-over-year, according to recent data from — it’s biggest traffic growth spurt in almost a year, since a 10.8% jump last March.

While Panera originally made its mark by offering freshly baked bread and other bakery goods — and later on, used ethical sourcing and “clean” ingredients as an industry differentiator – the fast-casual brand has recently changed its outlook.

As Panera looks to “get back to its roots” ahead of a near-future IPO, the company recently introduced a menu transformation, while allegedly simultaneously axing about 19% of the menu, including flatbreads, grain bowls, select pastry items and cold brews, and more. Additionally, the company has quietly rolled back some of its ethical sourcing practices to allow for “judicious use of antibiotics” and ease supply chain pressures. At the same time, Panera is still grappling with several lawsuits surrounding Panera customers that died allegedly after consuming highly caffeinated lemonade energy drinks.

All of this is leading up to Panera’s IPO launch which is supposedly still happening in 2024. Positive traffic patterns are a good sign, though according to data, part of the recent traffic surge could be attributed to recent footprint growth, with the company’s newest locations focusing on smaller footprints with digital off-premises features like mobile pickup.

As Panera looks to become a public company again, the company will want to reposition itself to compete with other public fast-casual options like Chipotle and Sweetgreen. In recent years, Panera has made various investments to increase its relevancy to a wider group of potential guests including successful programs like the popular Sip Club — which targets coffee and soft drink consumers in multiple dayparts – and less successful forays into the dinner daypart. (For the latter experiment, many of those newer menu items like flatbread pizzas and grain bowls were on the chopping block in this latest menu overhaul).

According to’s analysts, Panera has cornered a sweet spot in the market, as it straddles the fence between a true cafe and a lunchtime concept.’s data shows that Panera’s traffic is pretty evenly split between lunch rush (30.8% of traffic) and morning traffic (30.2%). In comparison, the majority of Starbucks traffic comes from pre-noon sales (45.7% of sales), while Sweetgreen’s traffic overwhelmingly comes during the lunch daypart, followed by early evening.’s demographic comparisons between these three brands, meanwhile, show more similarities between Starbucks and Panera customers than with Sweetgreen. Even though Sweetgreen and Panera are considered more lunchtime brands, both Panera and Starbucks customers are more likely to be middle-class families with income roughly that of the median U.S. household income. Sweetgreen customers may also be visiting during lunch hours, but they’re more likely to be from single-person households with substantially higher income (and likely in more urban environments).  

This data supports Panera’s desire to “get back to its roots” as a soup, salad, and sandwich brand. Instead of stretching its menu board to appeal to dinner guests with pizzas, or competing for Starbucks customers’ attention with a variety of cold brew drinks, Panera is eliminating distractions and homing in on a third avenue for potential future success: a (primarily) lunch brand that’s accessible and appealing to the average middle-class consumer.

The major menu overhaul Panera announced this year allegedly trimmed some classic items like turkey chili and Asian sesame salad, in favor of more widely appealing — and in many cases, more indulgent — fare like the new Chicken Bacon Rancher and Ciabatta Cheesesteak sandwiches. Besides culling menu items, Panera employees have been discussing and complaining about the decision to cut baker hours, and in some cases, phase out freshly baked bread altogether in favor of par-baked bread.

Whether these changes that Panera has made in recent months will serve the company well as it makes its way into the public sphere remains to be seen, but the company is trying to set itself up for success in the long run.

Contact Joanna at [email protected]m

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