Panera Seizes on Ready-to-Eat Trend With Grocery Loyalty Tie-In

Panera Bread grocery foods

As consumers increasingly purchase ready-to-eat meals where once they would have ordered food for takeout, Panera Bread is taking an “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” approach, leveraging the strength of its restaurant brand to drive packaged food sales.

In an emailed announcement, the fast-casual chain shared the launch of its Panera Grocery Rewards promotion. Through the fall, the company is providing consumers with $5 credits for restaurant items if they spend $20 on the brand’s consumer-packaged goods (CPG) at the grocery store, with customers scanning receipts as proof of purchase.

This promotion could have the added benefit of providing the chain with item-level receipt data, providing insight into when consumers are buying the brand’s products, what they tend to buy these items with and more.

The brand’s grocery products include packaged soups, meal bowls, mac and cheeses, and more. The push to promote these items comes as consumers, facing higher restaurant inflation than food-at-home inflation, increasingly seek alternatives to dining out or ordering in.

In fact, according to data from the latest edition of PYMNTS’ Connected Dining study, “Connected Dining: Ready-to-Eat Meals Are Eating Restaurants’ Lunch,” which drew from an April survey of more than 2,300 U.S. consumers, found that the majority (57%) had purchased a ready-to-eat meal in the past month, and many (28%) did so once a week or more.

Moreover, it seems that the market for ready-to-eat meals is poised to grow, given younger consumers’ disproportionate consumption. Seventy-two percent of Generation Z consumers and 75% of millennials reported having purchased ready-to-eat meals in the last month, and nearly half of all millennials (46%) do so weekly or more.

Consumers who have been purchasing more of these meals cite the improved quality and greater variety of foods available as well as their increasingly crunched schedules as key motivations for doing so.

Indeed, as some major restaurant brands note declining traffic, grocers are noticing increasing consumption of their ready-to-eat offerings.

“Our customers are looking for more ways to stretch their budget. The gap between food at home and food away from home spending grew … as more customers gravitated toward affordable meal solutions that restaurants simply can’t provide,” Kroger CEO Rodney McMullen said on an earnings call earlier this year. “Our research shows that cooking at home is three to four times less expensive than dining out. And as Kroger was there for our customers.”

Additionally, by rewarding these purchases with restaurant credit, Panera Bread is not only driving attention for its grocery brand but also incentivizing those looking for these kinds of quick meal options to nonetheless keep coming back to the brand’s bakery-café. After all, diners are more deal-motivated now than they are in periods of lower inflation.

Specifically, data from PYMNTS’ study, “Connected Dining: Consumers Like the Taste of Discount Meals,” for which we surveyed more than 1,800 U.S. consumers in February, revealed that the share of consumers redeeming discounts on their restaurant meals is up 86% this year, with 26% of diners reporting having used a discount on their most recent restaurant purchase, up from 14% in March 2022.