How Panera Is Different From Other Chain Restaurants, According To CEO

The average American retail and dining space is packed full of fast casual and fast food restaurants, serving everything from burgers, to pasta, to salads and sushi. Standing out in order to grab the attention of a hungry consumer might be a challenge, but Panera has found a way to do just that by putting an emphasis on clean food with simple ingredients. In addition, the company is focused on combating climate change. No easy task.

The man behind that mission is CEO Niren Chaudhary, who has led the business since 2019. Going from Yum Brands, the power behind fast food brands like KFC and Pizza Hut, to a company that leans into the idea of promoting healthy, sustainable choices might seem like a contradiction, but Chaudhary has, as The New York Times notes, embraced his new role. "Twenty-five to 30 percent of greenhouse gas emission comes from food," Chaudhary told the Times. "We contribute a lot to the problem as an industry, so therefore we as a food industry have to do something about it."

Panera's goal, Chanundy told the New York Times, is "to make this world happier and healthier because of the quality of our ingredients. The way in which we deliver it is with food that is good and also good for you, and that you feel good about eating."

Panera's focus on food, community, and the environment

For Panera, daring to be different from their competitors is more than just marketing speak. Delish notes that it was the first national restaurant group to embrace the idea of listing calorie counts on their menus. It managed to get rid of all artificial trans fats from their menu items in 2005 and ditched artificial ingredients in 2017. 

On the sourcing side, Panera took up the baton for serving antibiotic-free chicken and pork, and all but 11% of its beef is free-range and grass-fed. And they're not just good to their customers, they're good for the community too. As Delish notes, in some locations, they have a "pay what you can" system through their Panera Cares Community Cafes. They also have implemented a program called "Day-End Dough-Nation," which sees the day's unsold baked goods delivered to relief organizations. None of these are surprising, given Chaudhary's belief that "brands have to be responsible, have an impact agenda, to serve the communities, to be responsible, to lead on things like diet and environment." As he told The New York Times, "If you're not moving in that direction, you will have a limited shelf life." 

The CEO also used his conversation with The New York Times to make a promise to Panera's customers: "We have a very deep and firm commitment to the quality of the ingredients we use, and we will never, never move away from that in the future. So anything that we do has to be clean, has to be real, has to be responsible, has to be transparent, has to be convergent with the values of the highest-quality ingredients. That will never change."