- Panera added two warm grain bowls, the Baja Grain Bowl and Mediterranean Grain Bowl, to its menu nationwide, according to a company release. This is the company's largest product launch of the year and will add an entirely new category available during lunch and dinner dayparts, Panera EVP Chief Growth and Strategy Officer Dan Wegiel told Restaurant Dive.
- "[The bowls] are raising the bar in terms of where we're going from a culinary perspective with more of an international flair," Wegiel said.
- The bowls are available to order at Panera locations, on the restaurant’s website or app and through its delivery partners, which include DoorDash, Grubhub and Uber Eats. The company will also support the launch of these bowls with an integrated marketing and creative campaign, "Full of Good," which includes digital, TV, radio, over-the-top streaming and out of home.
Panera's new entree has been two years in the making, according to Wegiel, and caps off a year that has included a new breakfast and coffee menu and a dinner menu pilot. Even with a focus on all three dayparts, lunch remains its largest daypart, Wegiel said.
"This is our opportunity to affect lunch primarily, but it halos onto dinner," he said. "We really look at where the opportunity is on the market for growth and expansion and this category for lunch, as well as dinner, really offers that unique opportunity to really expand."
While Panera has been making big revisions to its menu this year, it's not alone. Wendy's is launching a breakfast daypart after several previous attempts. Taco Bell rolled out a dedicated vegetarian menu last week while also cutting nine items from its menu. Cava launched an innovation kitchen in Washington, D.C. to test new menu items.
Panera Vice President of Wellness and Food Policy Sara Burnett told Restaurant Dive while the restaurant does soup, salad and sandwiches well, the new category can serve as a hybrid of these two segments while adding in a hearty, warm, filling entree.
It also brings something unique to Panera that will allow it to differentiate from its competitors, she said.
The new items play into the growing popularity of "bowl food," but they're also part of the company's push to have a plant-forward option for flexitarians, who can also add chicken if they choose, according to the announcement.
The company continues to consider plant-based meats, but it is already using plant-based ingredients like quinoa and beans, Burnett said.
Preparing for today's nationwide launch wasn't too difficult, Burnett said. Since it already had a diverse pantry with 400 ingredients, it only had to make a few adjustments to its make line.
Panera only needed to add four new ingredients of house-made salsa verde, hummus, lemon tahini and long-grain brown rice to complete the bowls. The company built up its supply chain for the grain bowls during the two-year test to accommodate the additions.
The company also anticipates a 314% increase in cilantro use and to expects go through 15.2 million servings of whole grains just for the bowls, Burnett said.
The new bowl flavors will be mainstays at the moment, but the company tested 20 different grain bowls so it is possible that the bowl platform could have seasonal inspirations in future years, similar to the rest of its menu, Burnett said.