Panera Bread Co. is about to test a “dinner-centric” menu. The chain has always been open during the evening hours, but breakfast and lunch were its bread and butter. In July, the brand is aiming for the evening daypart with a 10-item dinner menu test.
The chain, owned by JAB Holding Co., said it will begin testing the new menu in Lexington, Ky., in July and Providence, R.I., in September. The menu will consist of hot sandwiches along with three new product categories for Panera: flatbreads, bowls and seasonal sides.
Parmesan broccoli, tomato basil and cucumber salad and sweet potato mash from Panera’s new dinner menu
St. Louis-based Panera is the bakery-café segment leader. The chain brought in $5.6 billion in domestic sales in its latest year, according to the Nation’s Restaurant News’ most recent Top 200 census, clocking in at 7.5 times the sales of the next largest player and holding 68.3% of total Top 200 bakery-café sales.
But bakery-café is a loosely defined segment with competition from all sides. Coffee shops compete for the breakfast daypart. Fast-casual chains compete for lunch. Looking to a new daypart makes sense, but it can be tricky.
“Everybody is diversified — IHOP is doing hamburgers; Starbucks is doing pastries — everybody is trying to create a new daypart for themselves, but it’s very difficult,” said Roger Lipton, an investment analyst specializing in chain restaurants, told NRN when discussing the bakery-café segment.
Still, Panera has a robust on-trend menu with healthy, seasonal options and bowls, which have gained popularity as of late. Specific menu items include teriyaki chicken and broccoli bowl, a pesto chicken bowl, a steak and blue cheese artisan flatbread, a toasted pastrami sandwich, tomato basil and cucumber salad, and a parmesan broccoli side.
As of March 26, Panera had 2,130 bakery-cafes in 48 states and Ontario, Canada.
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