Panera Bread

A Leading Fast-Casual Restaurant Chain Takes the Pizza Plunge

With its nationwide rollout of three delivery-friendly flatbread pizzas, Panera Bread Co. is looking to "carve out a niche ... in the pizza category."

After testing a new “dinner-centric” menu in two markets last year, Panera Bread Co. has been hungry for a slice of the pizza business—and now they’re going after it.

Panera on Wednesday announced a nationwide rollout of three flatbread pizzas that feature “extra finely ground flour for [a] delicate yet crispy crust, topped with delicious hearty ingredients.” Every Panera Bread store will offer Cheese, Margherita and Chipotle Chicken and Bacon flatbread pizzas, with prices starting at $7.99.

The flatbread pizzas have been crafted with delivery in mind, Panera executives said.

Related: Flatbreads deliver artisanal flair, a customizable format and the perception of healthier eating

“With the launch of Flatbread Pizza, we are looking to redefine the expectation of pizza and carve out a niche for Panera in the pizza category,” said Panera Head Chef Claes Petersson in a statement.

Panera tested the products at stores in Lexington, Kentucky, in July 2020 and Providence, Rhode Island, in September 2020.

“Our guests have been asking for this for years,” noted Panera Bread Chief Brand and Concept Officer Eduardo Luz. “We think Panera’s bread heritage and outstanding ingredients meet both the desire for high-quality crafted pizza as well as a growing customer off-premise behavior.”

In fact, Panera says its delivery business had doubled since the pandemic, with off-premise channels accounting for more than half of its sales.

In a Nation’s Restaurant News (NRN) interview, Sara Burnett, Panera’s vice president of food values, sustainability and public affairs, said the chain’s original flatbread pizzas had a thinner crust and less cheese. But they weren’t designed for delivery. Once the pandemic hit, the company explored options for optimizing the flatbreads for delivery. They added extra finely ground flour to double the dough’s weight and ensure a crispier bite even after sitting in a delivery box for a while.

Related: Try this recipe for Duck Bacon Flatbread from Maple Leaf Farms

Burnett anticipates that the new offering will appeal to customers in any daypart, not just dinner. “It really does open up all of those occasions and taps into the hot and hearty entrée trends we’ve seen through the pandemic,” she told NRN. “We’re seeing those off-premise channels grow significantly.”

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Panera had begun focusing on its dinner business, which represented more than 30 percent of the company’s sales. Company executives believe the flatbread pizzas will become a strong anchor for that daypart.