Why Grocers Should Care About Panera's Bold Move

Gina Acosta
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Why Grocers Should Care About Panera's Bold Move
Food retailers looking for plant-based menu ideas may want to look at Panera's all-veg grain bowls, launched in September 2019.

Food retailers on the fence about plant-based trends should pay attention to what Panera Bread just announced.

The fast casual chain's CEO told CNBC that the company plans to remove 50% of meat products from its menu by 2021.

“ 'Plant-based' is the buzzword used to describe a diet that incorporates less meat and more foods derived from plants. In the near term, Panera is going to try to increase its plant-based options from 25% of its menu to 50%. In 2021, consumers can expect new plant-based products from the sandwich chain in every category," CEO Niren Chaudhary told CNBC.

Chaudhary says plant-based options at Panera will focus on whole foods derived from plants, rather than imitation meats such as those from Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods.

“In the coming years, we want to have more grain options for our consumers, more plant-based options for our consumers and more high-quality lean-cut meats,” Chaudhary told CNBC.

The bold change in Panera's menu strategy comes as everyone in the food and retail industries, from restaurants to grocers to CPG, grapple with changing consumer preferences and how to satisfy consumers clamoring for more plant-based products. The Kroger Co. just last week announced it is rolling out Simple Truth Emerge: Plant Based Fresh Meats, an expansion of the grocer's natural and organic private brand. The new line offers fresh, pea-based meatless burger patties and grinds, an addition to the grocer's plant-based options that it added in September.

"Kroger continues to be at the intersection of plant-based curiosity and culinary innovation. As more of our customers explore and embrace a flexitarian lifestyle, Simple Truth Emerge is a fresh innovation that provides a flavorful meat alternative that cooks comparably," said Gil Phipps, Kroger's vice president of Our Brands. "Kroger believes that everyone deserves to have access to fresh, affordable and delicious food, no matter who you are, how you shop or what you like to eat. And Simple Truth Emerge is an illustration of the commitment that Kroger has to providing our 11 million daily customers with new choices that fit their evolving eating styles and preferences."

Kroger has also invested in plant-based meats with a 16-week merchandising test at 60 stores across two markets to measure the sales and engagement impact of adding plant-based meat sets within the traditional meat set. The test, in conjunction with the Plant Based Foods Association, launched in December and continues today.

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