The bakery cafe segment has come a long way since the sector began to define itself in the 1990s and early 2000s when Panera Bread paved the way for change. During the recession in the late 2000s, when most restaurant companies were slowing growth and neglecting the guest experience, Panera invested in a better guest experience. According to the company, the result was the most profitable cafes in Panera history and a soaring stock price that tripled. By the end of the decade, there were nearly 1,500 Panera bakery cafes.

The latest transformation at Panera involves a variety of innovations. Recognizing growing consumer demand for craft offerings and convenience, the company worked since 2010 to reposition Panera as a better competitive alternative with expanded runways for growth. Panera says it bet on digital, clean food, loyalty and multiple channels of access to products. Panera will hit $1.2 billion in digital sales this year. They are the first restaurant company to commit to and achieve 100% clean food. 

Further, valuable insights applicable to the bakery cafe segment can be gleaned from new reports from a collaboration between The J.M. Smucker Company and Technomic, which are designed to provide the latest consumer and trend insights. One is rising stars in coffee, and the other is “snackified entrees.”

Mini entrees billed as snacks are the current hot-ticket item on many top chain restaurant menus, according to the new reports. Not only has snacking consumption increased, but 27% of 18- to 34-year-olds even say they like to purchase snacks at restaurants instead of full meals. Plus, a notable 59% of consumers say it’s very important that snacks aren’t too large, which is higher than the proportion who say it’s important that snacks aren’t too small (49%).

It is also valuable to recognize that traditional coffee is the most purchased coffee type among consumers today. However, more individuals are also showing interest in seeing a greater variety of coffees at foodservice locations, including those that feature new brewing methods and flavors, according to the reports. Since coffee remains deep-rooted in daily consumption habits, operators are innovating more around this beverage than ever before to broaden appeal and increase traffic.