Panera Bread knows its soup bread bowls have become an icon in the comfort food category, especially during the pandemic. Here’s the how the restaurant is repurposing one of its most popular menu items into something more fit for the post-pandemic consumer.
This past Earth Day, Panera Bread proffered up a bicycle to help those who didn’t have access to gyms or needed a new form of non-public transportation. With one slight tweak: The basket on the bicycle is in fact, an insulated (non-edible) bread bowl. In addition to the bread bowl basket, the custom Vivelo bikes come in the signature Panera green hue and also feature the Panera logo itself. To celebrate more Earth-friendly ways to get around, the brand gave away 30 of the bikes in a contest this past April. On Earth Day, Panera also offered all its soups for 50% off. The effort isn’t the first time the brand has emphasized the eco-conscious holiday. Last October, Panera introduced Cool Food Meals to highligh numerous products on its menu, such as soup, that are more climate-friendly options. According to the soup and sandwich mainstay, if every Panera customer ordered a Cool Food Meal on Earth Day, it would reduce greenhouse gas emissions at a rate equivalent to taking more than 1,100 passenger vehicles off the road for an entire year.
While Panera’s latest push might sound a bit random, it actually taps into several trends of the moment while also furthering a much larger mission. During the pandemic, baking bread and indulging in comfort foods ruled the consumer mindset. Now, as the pandemic comes to a close and consumers are beginning to focus more on their health and appearance ahead of summer, Panera’s toasty bread basket allows them to enjoy the warmth and comfort of the classic soup-in-a-bread-bowl, minus the calories. This sensory marketing technique is one that major brands, including Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Oscar Mayer, Denny’s, and most recently, Kraft Singles, have been toying with. Finally, today’s consumer seeks out brands with a greater purpose than simply selling products, with sustainability-based subjects at the forefront, making Panera’s Earth Day initiative well-timed and well-toned.
Repurposing customer favorite products, like soup-in-a-bread-bowl, to cook up new content is a strategy that leading restaurants in Gartner’s report on the sector turned to when the pandemic began. In the past, Panera Bread played on the cult following of its bread bowls by creating a bread bowl mitten for customers to cuddle up to amidst the buzz of Bernie Sanders’ famous Smittens. Now, the label is taking this love to the next level with not only a larger item, but a larger mission—something brands of all backgrounds should look into doing when planning efficient ways to cater to the post-pandemic consumer.