Panera, king of the quick-service soup & sandwich chains, just significantly expanded its digital delivery program. What started in a few select cities in 2016 has now unrolled to a total of 897 across 43 states.
None of that expansion involves third-party involvement from the UberEats or Postmates of the world. Instead, everything from ordering to cooking to driving is done in house. Customers order via the Panera app or website, and Panera hires its own drivers to deliver the food to homes, hospitals, offices, and other locations.
Speaking of those drivers: One thing Panera emphasizes with this announcement is the number of new jobs created by expanding delivery services. The chain now boasts over 13,000 jobs created as a result of its digital program, which feels significant, considering we’re in an age where everyone worries about the robots.
As of yesterday, if you’re within an eight-minute drive of a participating Panera, you can get a delivery between 11 a.m. and 8 p.m., seven days a week. Delivery minimum is $5, not including the $3 delivery fee. Weirdly, the company specifies in the press statement that qualifying orders must be “within an eight-minute drive of the nearest participating location.” There’s no explanation as to how they came up with that number, or if that includes traffic. Even without those details, though, eight minutes seems abnormally short and makes me wonder if that’s going to put Panera at a disadvantage to companies using third-party services like UberEats.
Panera is the latest national chain to shift a significant amount of its focus to digital strategy. Said company CEO, Blaine Hurst, in a statement (PDF), “Delivery is fueling our next phase of growth, and the success we have seen so far is exciting. The combination of providing clean food options via an entirely digital experience is giving us a real advantage, and the momentum is just beginning.”
All this focus on digital suggests Panera is trying to go the way of a chain like Domino’s, rather than mimic many of its competitors. Recall that Domino’s is basically turning itself into a digital, e-commerce powerhouse that even has its own resident Domino’s chatbot to take phone orders. They’ll even deliver to parks and street corners now.
Panera’s program isn’t quite at Domino’s level yet, but it definitely appears to be headed down that path; digital orders now account for around 30 percent of its sales, or $175 billion last year.
Finally, since it’s still before 8 p.m. for most of us, you can take advantage of the free soup offer Panera is running today to celebrate its delivery expansion. Enter the code “PANERADELIVERS” to an existing delivery order and you’ll get a free cup of soup added to your meal.