Panera Bread chief executive officer Blaine Hurst, who stepped into the role November 2017, succeeding founder Ron Shaich, is retiring from the position, effective May 23, the company announced Friday. Niren Chaudhary is taking over. Hurst will remain on Panera’s board and become vice chairman.
Chaudhary joins 2,300-unit Panera from fellow JAB Holding Company chain Krispy Kreme, where he served as chief operating officer and president of international since 2017. Before, Chaudhary spent 23 years with YUM! Brands in a variety of executive positions.
“Niren is a recognized industry leader with an impressive track record of establishing brands and leading companies to achieve growth in markets around the world,” said Oliver Goudet, Panera chairman and JAB managing partner, in a statement.
Hurst is credited with many of Panera’s tech innovations, and will now be tasked with bringing JAB’s other food brands forward. He joined Panera in January 2011 as senior vice president of technology and transformation where he was asked to build the company’s digital capabilities and grow Panera’s 2.0 and e-commerce platforms. Hurst was elected executive vice president of technology and transformation in May 2013 and executive vice president and chief transformation and growth officer in October 2014. He was promoted to Panera’s president in December 2016.
Last year, Panera said it was set to hit $2 billion in total digital sales by the end of 2018. The mix, which includes online, mobile, and kiosk orders, accounts for roughly 33 percent of Panera’s sales currently. It receives about 1.4 million digital orders per week, up from 1.2 million in 2017.
Hurst took over the CEO spot when Shaich officially stepped down January 1, 2018. Shaich remained chairman, as well as a significant investor in Panera.
JAB, a Luxembourg-based company that owns Krispy Kreme, Caribou Coffee, Keurig Green Mountain, Pret a Manger, Peet’s Coffee & Tea, among others, acquired Panera for $7.5 billion, the previous spring. When Shaich left, Panera also announced it was purchasing Au Bon Pain, a company Shaich founded in 1981 with his late partner, Louis Kane.
“[Chaudhary] has a proven track record of successfully growing brands in many markets around the globe while also being highly focused on culture and people, and I am as excited about Panera's future today as I was when I started working with the company nearly nine years ago,” Hurst said in a statement. “I look forward to this next chapter as Panera's vice chairman and helping JAB, our majority investor, with technology initiatives and other potential projects, while also having the opportunity to spend more time with my family.
Added Chaudhary: "I am honored to be given the opportunity to lead Panera at this exciting milestone in the company's history. I look forward to working with all of the talented people who are part of Panera, including our employees and our franchisees, as we move forward to further grow one of world's best food companies. "
Goudet said Hurst’s new role would “help accelerate the technology transformation of our other food portfolio brands.”
Panera recently unveiled a new breakfast strategy aimed at capturing share during one of its slower dayparts. More than 75 percent of the chain’s business takes place after 11 a.m. The new plan includes three new breakfast wraps— Maple Glazed Bacon with Scrambled Egg & Gouda Cheese; Chipotle Chicken with Scrambled Egg, Avocado and Peppadew peppers; and the vegetarian Mediterranean with Scrambled Egg White, roasted tomatoes, spinach and Feta cheese.
It’s also testing a new “Panera Tap” technology for hot coffee where guests can skip the register or kiosk altogether. It’s set for the Raleigh and Durham, North Carolina, area. How it works is customers open the Panera app and tap an NFC smart poster to purchase a grab-and-go coffee via mobile payment.
Lastly, Panera said t’s “made a significant investment to upgrade its coffee,” and introduced new standards for brewing. Employees will now start grinding whole beans in house. Panera’s coffee stations are getting a makeover as well, which will allow guests to see the coffee-making process up close.
Panera’s changes include the launch of Cold Brew. Two flavored options are made with vanilla sourced from Madagascar: Madagascar Vanilla Cream Cold Brew and Madagascar Vanilla Almond Cold Brew, made with unsweetened almond milk.
The chain has also begun rolling out a new line of hot coffee—a fresh light roast and dark roast.
Panera said the new coffee blends will be in restaurants nationwide by late summer in a “completely revamped coffee station,” accompanied by the current Hazelnut and Decaf offerings.
Panera also revamped its bakery line, offering 10 new items, including Cheese and Cherry Brittanys, Almond and Chocolate Croissants, Cinnamon Crunch, Blueberry and Orange Scones, a Cocoa & Creme cookie, Brownie and a Vanilla Cinnamon Roll.