Panera is the 2nd largest fast casual player well known for its healthful “food that tastes good and is good for you” and “food as it should be” positioning, augmented by a “3rd place” oasis atmosphere. Its bakery-cafes format feature bakers that use simple ingredients & hot ovens to bake bread fresh every day and its menu is distinguished by healthy, veggie-centric “foodie offers”. The brand’s strategy is to develop leadership in the “hot & craveable” category by leveraging menu items like flatbread pizzas, grain bowls & chicken sandwiches while also seeking to build its breakfast & dinner dayparts. A leading-edge digital ordering platform includes Rapid Pick-Up, curbside pick-up, in-store kiosks, app order from my table, delivery & catering. This compliments its MyPanera loyalty program (the industry’s largest) which drives 50%+ of all its transactions and a frequency rate 2x that of non-members. Sales growth tailwinds include: menu positioning around unique, healthful & artisan; digital & off-premise strength; high frequency of loyalty members; brand orientation towards a wealthier demo more resilient to economic downturns; large group orders; a return to the office (helping lunch orders); and increasing dine-in trends as core boomer customers feel more secure after covid scare. Having said all this, Panera’s premium positioning can be challenged by industry discounting and while its healthy, quality upscale positioning may appeal to its core customers, it is less appealing to value seeking consumers at the margin. Also, its positioning is challenged by strong competition from fast casual players and growing external competition from QSR+, casual players providing greater value & faster service speeds at lunch and “better food” restaurant start-ups. Notably, while Panera has made good progress in digital, the system is hampered by 56% of its system that lacks a drive-thru. In conclusion, while Panera is well positioned for the long-term with a healthy halo and digital strength, near-term results may be tempered by the need for more value in a difficult economy and the need for a higher level of labor efficiency to support store-level profitability.
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