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Merrimack Valley

April 13, 2014

Panera CEO looks to fix ordering system

NEW YORK — Panera CEO Ron Shaich realizes that ordering at his chain can be chaotic.

First, the bakery cafe's customers are given a buzzer that lets them know when their food is ready. Then they get into a "mosh pit" to fight for their food. Next they play a game he calls "Find Your Food" — collecting a sandwich in one place, drinks in another and condiments in yet another.

The confusion is a problem for Panera Bread Co., which has seen its sales growth slow as customers go elsewhere. Last year, sales at established locations rose 2.3 percent, compared with a 5.7 percent increase the previous year.

Now, the St. Louis-based company is planning to overhaul the way people order in a project called "Panera 2.0" The plan includes letting customers order online or with their mobile devices to have their food ready to go at a set time. Also in the works are in-store touchscreens where customers can more easily customize their sandwiches. Workers will take the food to tables as well.

It's a major undertaking that has been in testing at more than a dozen locations since 2010. The first stage of the national rollout will be the "rapid pick-up" option that lets customers place mobile orders as much as five days in advance. The full rollout to the company's more than 1,700 locations will take several years.

Shaich says the idea is to eliminate the obstacles customers have to overcome to fulfill their "lust" for the company's soups, sandwiches and salads. Eventually, he said the goal is to offer "personalized menus" on mobile devices based on a customer's order history.

Q: How did the idea for this come about?

A: As a CEO, I'm paid to figure out where the world is going, not where it is. Today's consumer wants it their way. They want it customized. We have to have the system for that. We're entering a world where so many consumers are growing up in an omni-channel world. They want it where they want it and when they want it. And the reality is we're either going to have the capability of delivering into that or we're not. We're three to five years away. You're going to pick up your iPhone and you're going to go, "Yo. Siri. I want a Bacon Turkey Bravo at Panera."

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