Earlier in the month, Panera Bread introduced a special “You Mix 2” menu that features eight menu remixes crowdsourced directly from its 34 million MyPanera member base. In addition to the rollout, the chain brought four of the soup “hacks” to life through a unique augmented reality experience on Snapchat. In partnership with AR company, Kabaq, which is a subsidiary of The Glimpse Group, guests can scan designated Snapcodes and see how two menu items come together.

Panera’s loyalty platform has long been an industry leader. The bakery brand gathered some 4.5 million users and generated 200 basis points of traffic growth from loyalty within a year of launching in 2010. Last year, the company 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.

Panera’s digital kick really began in 2014 when it launched “Panera 2.0.” Ordering, pick-up, mobile app, and delivery were all key targets. Delivery arrived in 2016 and was live in 75 percent of units as of 2018. Panera has come quite a way. In 2014, it set a target of 20,000 digital orders a day with its new programs. Again, that figure is now up to 1.4 million per week.

All that said, it’s no secret to see Panera leverage one of the industry’s most engaged bases for a difference kind of menu run.

Here are the eight hacks:

  • Southwest Chili Shake Up: Southwest Chile Lime Ranch Salad & Turkey Chili (snapcode)
  • Mac-Tomato Medley: Mac & Cheese & Creamy Tomato Soup (snapcode)
  • Delicious Cheese Times: Broccoli Cheddar Soup & Mac & Cheese (snapcode)
  • Tomato Tango: Chile Lime Rojo Ranch Dressing & Creamy Tomato Soup (snapcode)
  • Caprese Groove: Modern Caprese & Creamy Tomato Soup
  • Soup Symphony: Broccoli Cheddar & Baked Potato
  • Dipping Duet: Classic Grilled Cheese & Creamy Tomato Soup
  • Chili Cheddar Bassline: Broccoli Cheddar & Turkey Chili

Scott Nelson, VP of marketing at Panera, chatted with QSR about the You Mix 2 menu’s inspiration, and why marketing and tech mix so well at the fast casual leader.

Firstly, talk about the inspiration behind the You Mix 2 menu. What drew Panera to the crowdsourcing angle?

Everyone loves a secret menu hack, and Panera fans are no exception. We rolled out a special “You Mix 2” menu, including eight unique menu remixes crowdsourced directly from our more than 30 million MyPanera member base. This concept allowed us to leverage and empower our guests to bring to life these menu hacks in an immersive way.  

Explain how the Snapchat angle figures in.

Snapchat has a robust platform and audience with the tech built in, so it provides a seamless opportunity to bring the hacks to life through a unique AR experience.  Through a partnership with leading AR company, Kabaq, Panera fans could scan designated Snapcodes and see how two menu items come together to create one craveworthy concoction.

Panera has long been a tech leader, especially in regards to ordering, access points, and rewards. Where does the synergy between tech and marketing begin?

Our holistic approach to technology pushes us to find new ways to make a difference in the lives of our guests. One example is our Panera 2.0 initiative aimed at improving the overall customer experience, order accuracy, and reducing friction through self-order kiosks, delivery, digital ordering and a new practice of bringing food to customers’ tables. Similarly, our marketing initiatives are rooted in consumer insights, and we evolve based on what we know guests want. For example, while everyone loves rewards, they need to be relevant and useful rewards to them. This personalized approach keeps people engaged, drives loyalty, and ultimately increases sales.

What do you believe has changed the most when it comes to driving customer frequency?

We need to continue to evolve as our guest and entire customer landscape evolves around us.  With access and options everywhere, driving frequency can be a challenge. Knowing what matters to your customer helps with the loyalty effect.  

What are some examples of tech and marketing working together at Panera?

We are always on the forefront of adapting new technologies and focused on improving our guest experience—both in cafes and digitally. MyPanera’s loyalty program is the largest in the industry and is a perfect example of how Panera creates a personalized experience.

How important is it for Panera to find ways to creatively engage its most loyal guests, like this crowdsourcing rollout? Is it critical to go beyond just the typical points-based rewards and into a much deeper relationship that keeps guests engaged?  

Absolutely. In today’s world, relevancy is king, and establishing that deeper personal relationship with our guests is paramount. 

How has marketing evolved from a medium standpoint for Panera in recent years. Is traditional still a large player, and how does it compare to non-traditional?  

You need to strike the right balance, so that’s what we do. We determine what truly matters to our customer and then determine the best medium to get us there. While traditional marketing still plays a role, we believe digital integrations are equally as important to stay top of mind with guests and engage with them.

What role has social media played in brand awareness?

In 2018, we had our best year ever in social media. We are finding our stride with our voice, our role of channel, our content, and real-time relevance.  

Ultimately, what would you say is your biggest marketing success? 

All of our marketing initiatives ladder up to our Food as it Should Be brand positioning, our long-term commitment to providing customers with greater transparency and clean ingredients. We provide food without artificial preservatives, sweeteners, flavors or colors from artificial sources. We know our guests are increasingly looking for clean, healthy options. But they also need transparency, and it’s up to restaurants and food manufacturers to provide it to them. We constantly challenge ourselves to understand what matters most to our customer.

Marketing & Promotions, Menu Innovations, Story, Panera Bread