Panera Bread is adding flatbread pizza to its menu, diving into a competitive space as pizza sellers from restaurants to frozen brands have seen sales soar during the pandemic.
Panera’s flatbread pizza is a way for the chain, which already sells plenty of bread and has cheese and other toppings in its other menu items, to use on-hand ingredients in a different way.
Pizza is also an easier dish than others for carryout and delivery, which have taken on new prominence as people spend more time at home. Chains including Domino’s have been posting record sales. At the same time, frozen pizzas, including those with some better-for-you traits, have been hot sellers.
Panera tried to sell a pizza-like product more than a decade ago, but struggled with the prep time it required and speed of service, says Sara Burnett, VP of wellness, food policy and public affairs, So, why does Panera think that it can play a role in the pizza category?
“Our guests have been asking us to launch into that category, into pizzas, for quite some time now,” says Panera Bread Chief Brand & Concept Officer Eduardo Luz.
Panera saw very promising interest and results from a flatbread pizza test in 2019 into 2020, Luz says. Then, the coronavirus pandemic disrupted the restaurant industry, leading to the rise of more delivery and carryout, as well as a drop in lunchtime orders across chains including Panera because office workers were staying home.
The sudden spark in “off-premise” dining made it a more compelling time to launch pizzas, says Luz. At Panera, which doesn’t disclose total sales, delivery is growing at a triple-digit clip, while rapid pickup and drive-thru orders are up double digits, says Luz.
“Propelled by off-premise, we are seeing sequential improvement every week on our business,” he says.
As people are at home, more orders are shifting later in the day.
“We believe that flatbread pizza is a great solution,” says Luz, who contends Panera’s lineup is differentiated from other pizzas in the U.S. He says Panera's use of “00” flour finished with olive oil, fontina cheese and grape tomatoes makes it more like the pies found in Italy.
Luz—who joined Panera in May—says that rather than focusing on rivals including long-established pizza chains or pizzas purchased in grocery stores, Panera is focused on winning over diners, including those who might add a flatbread pizza to an existing order. The chain’s marketing comes from Goodby, Silverstein & Partners.