Business is booming for bakery-cafés. The sector is steadily growing in numbers as consumers embrace the café concept and its innovative dining options for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

A leader in this sector, Panera Bread has continued to grow its sales and unit count over the last several years. According to a Technomic estimate, the company’s sales reached $5.76 billion in 2018. In the meantime, its brand has become one of the most well-known in the foodservice industry.

How does Panera continue this momentum heading into the new year and new decade? That’s the million (or billion) dollar question for its chief executive officer, Niren Chaudhary. In April of 2019, Chaudhary was tapped to take over the massive responsibility of pushing Panera forward.

“(Niren) has shown a keen ability to develop growth strategies that appeal to consumer needs no matter where they reside. These qualities make him perfectly suited to lead Panera into the next phase of global growth in the U.S. and abroad, while maintaining its mission of doing good in the world and serving food as it should be,” says Oliver Goudet, Panera chairman.

His ambitious plans included a focus on breakfast and dinner and the acceleration of Panera’s digital and delivery business.

In the summer of 2019, Panera expanded its delivery capabilities when it announced that its national delivery service would be available for the first time through food delivery partners DoorDash, Grubhub, and Uber Eats. The addition of these partners to Panera’s delivery lineup for lunch and dinner allows customers to have more ways to access Panera favorites while still experiencing the delivery experience they’ve come to expect in the past few years.

Whether customers order via Panera’s apps or through one of its partners, their orders will be delivered to them by Panera’s own delivery drivers (known as the ‘bring your own courier model’) in most markets. This, in addition to breakfast delivery, has offered customers a convenient alternative to waiting in line for food and beverages.

"We recognize our guest is looking for new breakfast offerings in their busy lives." - Sara Burnett, VP of Wellness and Food Policy, Panera

According to the company, 35 to 37 percent of its revenue comes from ecommerce, and there are nearly 38 million members on its loyalty program. Panera plans to build up its loyalty member engagement by making its app even easier to use.

Also last year, the company looked to usher in a new era of breakfast on the go with three new breakfast wraps – all 100 percent clean label. They were designed to provide consumers with wholesome options ideal for on-the-go occasions. The new breakfast category included maple glazed bacon with scrambled egg and gouda cheese, chipotle chicken with scrambled egg, avocado and peppadew peppers, and the vegetarian Mediterranean with scrambled egg white, roasted tomatoes, spinach and feta cheese.

All breakfast food and new coffee offerings are 100 percent clean, with no artificial preservatives, sweeteners, flavors, or colors from artificial sources as defined by Panera’s “No No List.”

“We’ve long set the standard for an elevated morning experience from bagels to brioche breakfast sandwiches and craft bakery. But we recognize our guest is looking for new breakfast offerings for their busy lives,” says Sara Burnett, Panera Vice President of Wellness and Food Policy. “By offering handcrafted breakfast options made with our real, fresh pantry ingredients and pairing them with coffee that matches the quality of the food in our cafes, our customers can get all their breakfast needs under one roof at their own pace.”

Wellness is the next big challenge that the company is committed to tackling. This will include more plant-based options on the menu.

Consumers are increasingly adding plant-based options to their diets. In fact, Mintel reports that nearly two in five Americans are trying to eat more plant-based foods, which is why Panera plans to increase its plant-based mix from the current 25 percent to at least 50 percent.

Grains and lean proteins are also a part of that plan. In the fall of 2019, Panera debuted its warm grain bowls. They feature a medley of whole grains, crisp greens, vibrant vegetables, and lean protein infused with internationally-inspired flavors and sauces.

Panera hopes to deliver food options that are filling and fulfilling. The bowls in particular are designed to fit into a flexitarian diet—guests can enjoy them as a plant-forward option or add chicken for a protein-rich meal.

“We want to pivot the conversation away from diets and what you can’t have—the no—to high quality, wellness food you should have—the yes,” says Chaudhary. “We’ve removed the artificial colors and sweeteners. Now it’s time for our new journey, which is adding stuff that is good for you and is natural and simple.”

With this strategy in place, Panera can make its food even more accessible to consumers and continue its growth into the new decade.