The Real Reason Panera Updated Its Menu

Panera Bread introduced a new kind of food to its menu in October – something that has turned out to be a big hit during the COVID-19 pandemic (via QSR). Adding flatbread pizza to its usual lineup of soups, salads, sandwiches, and bread bowls during the pandemic might look like perfect timing but was in fact a coincidence. Panera had been planning for pizza for the past two years. The fast-casual chain did need to make some adjustments on the fly with its newest menu item, just as it had been doing with all of its operations since the pandemic began.

Panera is offering up three flatbread pizza options at a starting price of $7.99: Cheese, Margherita, and Chipotle Chicken & Bacon. The pizzas were originally designed to be enjoyed hot and fresh out of the oven in Panera's dining rooms. After COVID-19, the chain rethought its pizza and decided to give it heftier dough so it would travel better. Panera also designed a box to fit its new pizza snugly.

Now Panera is poised to take a bite of a hot takeout and delivery market for pizza. Sales at Domino's stores improved 17.5 percent this year. Papa John's, outlets saw a 23.8 percent boost. Panera may not compete directly with the likes of Domino's, since Panera's flatbread pizza is a crunchier kind of pie that only comes in one size, big enough for one person. But Panera execs think they'll attract pizza fans with higher-quality ingredients.

Panera has been rolling with the punches throughout the pandemic

Panera has been making adjustments ever since the pandemic started. In the early days of COVID-19, the chain shut down 15 percent of its stores but opened up the pantries in its remaining stores, converting them into grocery stores for those looking to pick up a gallon of milk or anything else that might be scarce at their regular supermarket (via USA Today). Over the summer, Panera made a move to grow its digital business and build loyalty among customers by giving members of its coffee subscription service a few free months (via Fast Casual).

Of course, pizza is not just pandemic food, even though a recent survey said people were looking for this particular carry-out comfort food more than burgers or anything else that's available for takeout. Panera is committed to pizza for the long haul, hoping it will boost low dinner revenues. The pizza option should bring more families into Panera dining rooms, whenever people are finally ready to venture out to restaurants again. If a family member had vetoed Panera in the past because they really wanted pizza, well, now the chain can make those people happy.