ST. LOUIS - A restaurant chain offering fresh-baked breads, sandwiches, soups, coffees and teas might not seem like a good bet in today economy, but Panera has proven those ingredients do combine into a recipe for success, Knowledge@Wharton reports.
Panera locations can be found all over the country, with customers drawn to its homey atmosphere of comfy chairs and tables and Wall Street investors attracted to its proven growth strategy. The bakery chain is one of the fastest-growing restaurant chains in the country with just over 1,400 locations thus far. In 2009, Panera realized $1.9 billion in revenues.
The secret to the chain€™s success has been its adherence to its niche strategy of providing healthy food in an appealing atmosphere, said Lawrence Hrebiniak, a management professor at Wharton. "Panera has become a symbol of warmth," he said. "In advertisements, they position themselves as a warm, welcoming place. They want you to bring your friends and family. They want you to come to Panera to have lunch with a good old friend...When times are tough, people go back to the basics. You can€™t go out to dinner and drop $250, but you can go to Panera with a friend and have a tasty bowl of soup and smell the bread baking."
Customers continue to crave the Panera experience because the company understands what its customers want, said Yoram "Jerry" Wind, marketing professor at Wharton. "Right now, we're in an environment where 17 percent of people are either unemployed or underemployed. That's a huge part of the population, and it has made customers very price conscious," he said. "The value equation must be strong in a bad economy. This is part of why Panera, which has affordable food, is winning."
Panera also encourages community by offering free Wi-Fi and by allowing small groups to meet in its restaurants. "We're seeing the evolution of the common space and the community space, and Panera is a part of that," said John Ballantine, a senior lecturer specializing in strategic management at Brandeis University International Business School. "Before, it was a good bakery with quality food at decent prices. But now it's become a place where people gather."