USA

Panera Bread is dedicated to feeding both the needy and the brave

Sometimes, it takes a crisis to bring out the best in ourselves, as well as in big business.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit, essential business services large and small have had to adapt on the fly to customer demand, and all within a whole new set of preventative and safety parameters. Many have risen to the test in order to survive, and even thrive. Some have managed to do so while demonstrating gratitude and empathy through considerable philanthropic endeavors.

Panera Bread has been able to continue to serve loyal customers throughout the coronavirus ordeal, since most of their 2,174 bakery-cafes across the nation and Canada remained open, says Scott Nelson, vice president of marketing for the company.

“Nearly 90 percent of Panera cafes were able to stay open during the crisis with at least curbside, drive-thru or contactless delivery,” he says.
The good news is that it meant the continuation of Panera’s “Day-End Dough-Nation.”

“Every night in every cafe, we donate our unsold breads and baked goods to local nonprofits in each of our communities,” says Nelson. “Last year, we donated over $100 million [worth] of baked goods to over 4,000 local nonprofits.”

Thankfully for its 140,000 employees, the restaurant chain recognized the valiant efforts of their associates early on in the pandemic, as they quickly adapted to the brand’s off-premise model. The efforts of their delivery workers, in particular, were highlighted through a “From One Neighbor to Another” video commercial campaign.

“This effort began early on during the pandemic when our delivery business was crucial to the environment we were living in, and our desire to make sure good, fresh food is accessible to all during this unprecedented time,” says Nelson.

The company reached out to cafe and franchise partners to seek out those drivers they thought the company should shine a light on.

Such heartfelt, unscripted editorials were shot on driver smartphones.

“We wanted to tell their amazing stories of being on the empty streets, the front lines, safely delivering food across America.”

The belief that good food should be accessible to all is a tenet Panera operates by, and has diligently found ways to provide meals to those facing food scarcity during the global health crisis.

Panera Bread vice president of marketing Scott Nelson
Panera Bread vice president of marketing Scott Nelson

Through a partnership with the Children’s Hunger Alliance (CHA) and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), Panera is providing freshly prepared, wholesome meals to kids in need in Ohio, says Nelson, and, via local franchise partners, “is leveraging its supply chain and bakery-cafes to provide ready-to-eat, freshly prepared meals to CHA for children vulnerable to hunger across the state.”

In conjunction with other nonprofits and local school districts across the country, the company has scaled this model, providing more than 65,000 school meals.

“We’re continuing to look for partners who need meals delivered, even during the summer months when school is out,” says Nelson.

Building upon their long-standing partnership with domestic hunger-relief organization, Feeding America, Panera mobilized quickly with them to provide freshly prepped meals to people in need through the charity’s network of food banks. The joint altruistic effort is a much-needed boost, since the charity estimates that 17.1 million people could face hunger in the next six months as a result of the pandemic, according to a recent press release.

To expand the reach of this collaboration, Panera turned to their online platforms.

“Panera has a large social voice [nearly 500,000 Instagram followers] and we wanted to try to use it to do some good during this crisis and help to raise awareness of the need that’s out there right now,” says Nelson. “We launched the #SeeAPlateFillAPlate challenge on Instagram on April 24, inspiring Americans to donate and fill a plate for someone in need,” says Nelson. “To date we’ve been able to provide more than 340,000 meals nationally.”

Generosity has also come in musical form. The new single, “Say the Word,” written and performed by Elektra recording artist, Livingston, is providing a portion of the proceeds to Feeding America in partnership with Panera’s Together Without Hunger campaign.

Tipping their hats to front-line workers, Panera also launched a Meals for Heroes initiative during National Hospital Week (May 10 to 16).

“The project provides a way for local communities to further thank their health-care workers by providing them with a fresh Panera meal and reminder that we appreciate all they are doing for our communities,” says Nelson.

It is also designed “to better assist hospitals with the influx of meal orders for front-line workers,” he says. “We have many relationships with hospitals and have been working to support them as they use their own resources and private donations to feed their front-line employees. We quickly realized that some of the friction in providing meals to employees could be solved through our online ordering technology and knowledge of these locations. We’re currently working with 600 participating hospitals nationwide.”

Those looking to contribute to Meals for Heroes to give back to health-care workers can visit PaneraBread.com/MealsForHeroes.

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