Panera CEO on why the chain developed a mission that goes further than simply trying to sell more food

Panera CEO Blaine Hurst.

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Panera CEO Blaine Hurst.
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Hollis Johnson/Business Insider

  • Panera’s CEO Blaine Hurst says that the company needs to have a mission that is bigger than simply selling food.
  • “Clearly we want to sell more food, let’s face it,” Hurst recently told Business Insider. “We’re capitalists. We wanna sell more food. But if that’s our only motivation, then I don’t think you can earn the consumer’s trust.”
  • Panera has established its dedication to nutrition and clean food in recent years with initatives like “Food Interrupted” and cutting artificial ingredients from menu items.
  • This article is part of Business Insider’s ongoing series on Better Capitalism.

Panera’s CEO has a mission that goes beyond trying to sell more food.

“Brands today, every component of their work is about selling more foods next week,” CEO Blaine Hurst recently told Business Insider.

“While we want to sell more food next week,” Hurst continued, “we think that if we’re going to live up to our brand purpose and our commitment to each other and our commitment to our customers – the best way to do that is actually be committed, truly, to better eating.”

The fast-casual chain has established its dedication to nutrition and clean food in recent years.

In 2015, Panera announced plans to cut artificial ingredients on its “no-no list,” completing the mission last year. The company is constantly tweaking its menu to add more whole-grain bread and lower-sugar drinks. Most recently, the chain announced it is producing its own original series about clean food called “Food Interrupted,” streaming online and on the chain’s Facebook page.

Blaine Hurst Panera Bread CEO

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Hollis Johnson/Business Insider

“Clearly we want to sell more food, let’s face it,” Hurst said. “We’re capitalists. We wanna sell more food. But if that’s our only motivation, then I don’t think you can earn the consumer’s trust. Because then consumers see right through you.”

Take, for example, “Food Interrupted.” When Hurst initially watched the show, he said he was struck by the lack of Panera-centric name-dropping. Instead of product placement, episodes focus on issues such as sugar and whole grains.

Ultimately, creating the bond and trust with customers is a good business move even if it doesn’t boost sales of a specific menu item, according to Hurst.

“I think there are gonna be leaders and there’s gonna be followers, right?” he said. “Panera has taken this leadership position to define what that future could look like.”

Read Business Insider’s full conversation with Hurst here.