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Out of avocado? Panera Bread’s new grocery delivery service can help

The soup-and-sandwich chain is adding produce, bread, and other pantry staples to its pickup and delivery menus.

Out of avocado? Panera Bread’s new grocery delivery service can help
[Photo: ablokhin/iStock]

If Whole Foods delivery isn’t coming through for you, Panera may be able to help.

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The sandwich, soup, and salad chain, which already delivers meals from its extensive menu via its own team of drivers and through Grubhub, is now launching Panera Grocery. The new service allows customers to order pantry essentials that are in high demand including milk, fruit and vegetables, and (of course) bread. The goods are priced competitively to similar items found in supermarkets.

“Our mission has always been to make good food accessible,” says CEO Niren Chaudhary. “We want to strengthen our off-premise channels to better serve the consumer and keep as many people employed as we can.”

[Image: courtesy Panera]

Panera will continue to use its locations to serve customers with takeout meals. (Chaudhary says employees are taking extra precautions, including frequent hand-washing and disinfecting surfaces.) Branches that do not have drive-through access recently introduced curbside pickup options—called “drive-up”—and all deliveries are now contact-less. Additionally, food comes in sealed packaging to minimize the risk of contamination. 

Restaurants across the country have been dabbling in grocery delivery in recent weeks as a way to stay afloat during the COVID-19 crisis. But Panera, which has more than 2,100 bakery-cafes in 48 states and Canada (half of them franchises), is the largest restaurant group in the U.S. to offer such services. To do this seamlessly—it took two weeks for the company to devise and introduce the service—Panera is leveraging its enormous supply chain and enviable network of drivers. Notably, the food delivery cost will remain flat for customers, regardless of the size of their order. “We hope that customers ordering a meal from us, like a soup or sandwich, will see the other offerings and order milk or apples as well, but the delivery price will not change.”

[Image: courtesy Panera]

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Chaudhary says that the company’s business has been cut in half by COVID-19: Nearly 50% of Panera’s customers traditionally dined on premise. In response, Panera has furloughed a significant number of its non-franchise workforce but is maintaining health benefits for out-of-work employees and paying them a quarter of their salary while they wait to return to work. Other employees have seen salary cuts as well.

“The best thing we can do collectively is improve our top line, because then we can pull more employees away from being furloughed, and back into active employment,” Chaudhary says, adding that the company is offering weekly family meals to all employees including those who have been furloughed.

Panera is also helping furloughed employees find temporary employment with companies that have been overwhelmed by the increase in their business due to the coronavirus, including CVS and Walmart. “CVS has a dedicated home page for Panera workers, so without much friction, furloughed employees can get temporary employment, and then they can come back when the time is right,” Chaudhary says. 

Chaudhary hopes that the grocery delivery service can be of particular help to people who are quarantined and unable to leave their homes. “We already have the drivers and we already have the delivery service, so this is a natural extension of our offerings,” he says.

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