Long known for its bakery-inspired fare, Panera has thrown its hat into the gluten-free arena with a new product, which it began testing in Detroit October 28.
Specializing in baked goods and sandwiches, the St. Louis–based fast casual has expanded its menu in recent years to include bread-free options. In addition to its existing salad and soup programs, Panera introduced a line of broth bowls in January that used wheat-free grains like soba noodles and quinoa. Nevertheless, its bread offerings had remained staunchly gluten filled until now.
Vice president of R&D for Panera and Culinary Institute of America alum Tom Gumpel says that guests have been seeking more options on the menu, but it was key that Panera develop one with clean ingredients and great taste.
“Often, gluten-free breads include dozens of ingredients—many of them fillers like starches or gums—which are often necessary to support the structure of a loaf,” Gumpel writes in an email. “My ‘a-ha’ moment when developing this recipe was realizing that the loaf wasn’t necessary. By creating a thinner focaccia roll with less of an emphasis on the structure, I could use fewer ingredients and focus on flavor and nutrition.”
The resulting rosemary focaccia roll is made of rosemary, olive oil, sprouted seeds including chia, flax, and broccoli, and whole-grain white sorghum, which Gumpel says adds a nutty flavor.
Although Panera prides itself on baking its breads daily, the rosemary foccacia roll is made off-site in a gluten-free environment to avoid cross-contamination. Because the bread could come into contact with some source of gluten once the packet is open, the rosemary focaccia roll will be labeled “gluten conscious.”
Before rolling the product out system-wide, Panera is testing it in Detroit, which is an entirely company-owned market with enough units to yield results. Consumers will be able to substitute it for bakery or café items.
“Our intention isn’t to extend gluten free across the bakery. We thought it was important to offer an option for people avoiding gluten that could work in a variety of ways—as a side item or sandwich bread,” Gumpel says. “Our intention is to make sure we have options for our guests, but we will never do that at the sake of good baking.”
Panera is also testing two gluten-conscious cookies, which Gumpel says are expected to debut nationally in January.
By Nicole Duncan