Panera to Open Pop-Up Pantry in New York to Promote New Foods

Panera Bread Restaurant
Panera’s revenue rose 6 percent last year. Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg

Panera Bread Co. will open a “Panera Pantry Experience” pop-up shop Wednesday, giving diners a chance to peruse a version of its kitchens and sample new fare set to debut in the fall.

The pop-up, housed in a 2,000-square-foot (about 185 square meters) store once used by Patagonia, will be open 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. in New York’s SoHo neighborhood for one day only. The pantry is stocked with each of the chain’s 450 ingredients, including the most obvious staples -- jars of flour, cartons of eggs and coffee -- as well as the not-so-apparent ones -- pumpkin flakes and Napa cabbage.

Panera’s pantry will give customers a chance to try some new sandwiches and salads that aren’t on the menu yet. The company also is hoping to “invite conversation” around its new menu ingredients, and its new marketing campaign, dubbed “Food as It Should Be.”

“We call this our pantry because it’s the same thing you have at home,” Tom Gumpel, Panera’s head baker, said in an interview in New York on Tuesday. “It’s just food as it should be.”

The move comes as the 34-year-old chain struggles to keep growing like some of its younger competitors in the fast-casual sector. Panera’s revenue rose 6 percent last year. Sales at Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. jumped 28 percent, while Noodles & Co. increased 15 percent in 2014.

In May, Panera said it had removed a “No-No” list of artificial ingredients from 85 percent of its menu, although it had not yet reformulated some crucial items like salad croutons and bacon. Its goal is to be artificial-ingredient free by 2016.

Menu Staples

Many of Panera’s toughest food reformulations came from the bakery. The last products to contain artificial ingredients are mostly items that have been menu staples for years. The cafe has been testing new ingredients in some U.S. markets before adding them nationwide.

Those tests include candies colored with beet powder, spirulina and beta-Carotene instead of traditional food dye. They’re being tested in Minnesota and Wisconsin now and may be in restaurants in the fall.

While some products were easier to reformulate than others, higher costs can be a concern, said Head Chef Dan Kish. Panera has found some less-expensive cuts of bacon that don’t look perfect, yet are still additive free.

“Making clean bacon is not that hard,” Kish said. “Affording it is another story.”

Other chains are trying to clean up their menus too. Chipotle has purged genetically modified organisms from its menu. Subway Restaurants said earlier this month that it would rid its menu of artificial colors, flavors and preservatives during the next 18 months.

Labeling GMOs

Panera has no plans yet to follow Chipotle’s lead by removing GMOs from its 1,900 restaurants, but a GMO menu-labeling program is “in the works,” Kish said. He declined to give more details.

More immediate are plans to extend the menu cleanup to Panera’s soda fountains. While the chain won’t rid its machines of PepsiCo Inc. and Dr Pepper Snapple Group Inc. drinks -- many of which contain No-No list ingredients high-fructose corn syrup and artificial colors -- it’s working with Pepsi to offer different beverages. That includes more tea and flavored water.

“It’s a crawl, walk, run mentality,” Gumpel said. “You don’t flip the switch and go all-natural immediately.”

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