Early on in the pandemic, most foodservice companies figured out how important digital technology was going to be during an era of lockdowns. Panera Bread — with CEO Niren Chaudhary at the helm — quickly emerged as an industry leader in leveraging technology for consumer needs at this challenging time.
While Panera’s coffee subscription program service — introduced just before the pandemic — was supposed to be the major product in 2020 for the company, Chaudhary was able to quickly pivot when he figured out customer needs were swiftly changing.
In May, Panera introduced contactless curbside pickup with geofencing technology, which went above and beyond the by-then standard offerings of contactless delivery, rapid pickup, and drive-thru. With the new geofencing Wi-Fi technology, Panera’s free WiFi is extended beyond its café to the parking lot so that employees are automatically notified when a customer arrives to pick up their order. This extra step solidifies Panera’s commitment to convenience and a frictionless experience in 2020.
“In the new world as it emerges, we are focused on how we can best serve our customers and meet them where they are,” Chaudhary said in a statement at the time. “Our latest technology and Wi-Fi capabilities, combined with enhanced protective measures at bakery-cafes, make Panera curbside a frictionless way to continue to enjoy the Panera experience you know and love.”
In August, Panera Bread debuted even more digital features for customers, including pickup and delivery through Google search, Google Maps and Google Assistant; and delivery status push notifications through text, email, and MyPanera notifications. These latter features were added in September (email and mobile app) and the fourth quarter of 2020 (text notifications), respectively.
Chaudhary’s strategy throughout 2020 has been to focus on continued innovation to strengthen customer relationships as the company continues to grow.
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