With Digital Surging, Panera Joins the Pizza Category

Before pizza became a realistic option, though, Petersson realized the product needed more dough weight so it could travel better. Panera added extra finely ground flour to double it. It also developed cardboard packaging that snuggly fits and includes directions to reheat if needed.

The process goes as deep as how it’s devised slice-by-slide. Petersson says there are crunchy slices on the outside and softer ones in the middle, which helps it maintain integrity over time.

Burnett adds Panera’s previous iteration was really as a dine-in, fresh-out-of-the oven product. “And not only did they do the culinary work to figure out how to make this travel well and make it great, delivered quality served 40 minutes later in off-premises, but our business dynamics have been changed since the beginning of the pandemic,” she says, referring to the hike in digital occasions.

Panera didn’t have to add any equipment or pantry ingredients to make pizza happen, either. Pizza stones were already in each restaurant. The only add was the dough, which sources from a supplier on its own recipe. Petersson says locations had to conduct about three weeks of training to get employees ready.

“The execution that I’ve seen looking at it, it’s really flawless,” he says. “I can’t wait to launch this [Wednesday] and really have it feeding America in new ways.”

Pizza represents Panera’s first new food category since grain bowls in September 2019. Like that launch, the company is supporting pizza with a 360-degree ad push Burnett called “one of our largest campaigns of the year.”

It will flood social and all traditional media. National TV next week. Petersson himself is doing some spots Wednesday. Expect to see “tons of out of home,” Burnett adds, as well as digital work and social influencers. Tactics to drive trial, she says. This includes leveraging Panera’s massive 40 million MyPanera loyalty base. They’ve received teases and primers in recent days about the coming launch.

“We think that MyPanera base and driving traffic to them is going to be a big opportunity because what we found in tests is that this has a really high repeat rate,” Burnett says. “So once people try it, they’re hooked, and they add it to their list of Panera favorites.”

Petersson says Panera’s separates from pizza competitors for the same reason the brand differentiates at this scale in the first place. Things like fresh Mozzarella, basil, and cilantro and the flatbread base. “The ingredients are a notch higher than many others out there, without being rude,” he says.

“Our guests choose Panera because they want to eat delicious food, that they can feel great about eating. Flatbread Pizza—done the Panera way—are the perfect offering for this moment and beyond,” Eduardo Luz, Panera’s chief brand and concept officer added in a statement.

Luz noted pizza could achieve its original aim as well—to open up the dinner daypart for Panera. Pre-COVID-19, more than 75 percent of the company’s business took place post-11 a.m. Yet dinner only accounted for roughly a quarter to a third (depending on the spot). And that was without a decided menu, which was the thinking behind the June 2019 test.

October data from Revenue Management Solutions showed year-over-year dinner traffic was slowing and consistently improving. At that point, it trended negative 8 percent versus prior-year levels. It’s remained in the negative 8–10 percent for most of summer.

So while dinner might not be an imminent focus, it’s something to consider down the line.

But in general, pizza is something Burnett believes will open up occasions regardless. It will overcome the veto vote and put Panera into the consideration set for some. Basically, if someone in the house wanted pizza, there are few brands that can stack other options around it like Panera.

On a personal note, Petersson says the launch is a dream fulfilled of sorts. He first visited a Panera in 2007 and tucked away a goal to eventually join the brand “and make stuff like this.”

“And now it’s happening,” he says. “… It means a lot to me. We’re a unique brand that can do unique things and now we have a fourth leg in our platform to lean on.”

“I would just say this pizza done Panera’s way,” Burnett chimes in. “And I think it’s absolutely unique because it’s freshly prepared, the clean ingredients you know and love from Panera. But they’re really artfully prepared by our chefs and bakers.”

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