Lunch meetings at Panera (PNRA) headquarters are an interesting affair.
CEO Ron Shaich eats vegan for a good portion of the week, president Blaine Hurst eats a more Paleo-style diet, and director of wellness and food policy Sara Burnett is a flexitarian—someone who mostly eats mostly vegetarian and meat only sporadically.
The diversity of diets around the company’s conference room table looks a lot like the rest of the population’s— as do the trials and tribulations of ordering lunch when following a relatively strict food regimen. That got the team thinking about “how would we want to be served as a guest,” says Burnett.
The answer comes in the form of three curated menus that the company is announcing Thursday based on three different types of diets: plant-based, protein-rich, and nutrient-packed.
Rather than cull through all the salads on the menu, customers placing their orders digitally will now have the option of selecting a diet type, which will filter the appropriate foods: 30 vegan or vegetarian plant-based items, 28 nutrient options, and 27 protein-rich selections.
The move is meant to take the “guesswork out of our menu,” said CEO Ron Shaich in a statement.
In addition to sorting existing items into these three menus, the company is creating two new salads for each category, including an ancient grain Greek (plant-based), avocado cobb with chicken (protein-rich), and blueberry and white balsamic (nutrient-packed).
The company says it is the first national restaurant company to integrate curated menus into digital ordering. About a quarter of Panera’s orders come in digitally via its in-store kiosk, website, or app.
“We know that food is more than just fuel,” says Burnett. “In many ways food is medicine. It’s a macro-trend that we’re seeing, and rightfully so.”
Panera has a history of promoting plant-based proteins—rare for a mainstream restaurant—and is often on the cutting edge of food policy. It started serving chicken raised without antibiotics long before the issue was on most consumers’ radars. And in 2014 it committed to using only “clean ingredients.” Today it has a “No No List” of ingredients—from aspartame to synthetic vanillin—that you’ll never find in the company’s food.
Panera is currently in the process of being sold to German conglomerate JAB. The deal, announced in April, is for $7.5 billion.