Panera just announced a change that promises to cut into the chain’s profit margins in the short term. But that’s just fine with CEO Ron Shaich.
On Tuesday, Panera announced that beginning this week the chain’s cups would feature calorie and added-sugar information.
The new cups – which highlight the fact that a 20-ounce soft drink contains a whopping 17 teaspoons of sugar – coincide with the national rollout of Panera’s line of lower-sugar drinks, which launched earlier this year.
“We believe in two things: real choices and real transparency,” Shaich told Business Insider.
A survey commissioned by Panera found that 99% of Americans were unaware of the amount of sugar in soft drinks, and Shaich says it’s the chain’s mission to educate them. Excess sugar consumption has been linked to higher rates of obesity, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s, and cutting out soda is one of the easiest ways to cut sugar from your diet.
But at the same time, Panera has a financial incentive to sell as many soft drinks as possible.
- Panera/David Elmes
Soda is cheap for chains to prepare, and it has an incredible profit margin. According to “Fast Food Nation,” the syrup to make a large Coke cost McDonald’s about $0.12, but the drink costs customers $1.49 – a 1,200% profit margin.
Shaich says Panera’s new craft-beverage line is more expensive to produce, meaning the drink won’t provide the same easy money.
Yet Panera is trying to persuade customers to ditch sugary soft drinks anyway. Shaich believes it’s the right long-term strategy for Panera as the chain continues to double down on healthy eating trends.
There has already been an 8% shift toward Panera’s lower-sugar beverages over soft drinks since they were added to the menu in March. The cups are designed to push that figure further, especially with the blunt listing of added sugar by teaspoon as opposed to grams.
“The only people who know what grams are are drug dealers and Walter White,” Shaich said.
Wall Street doesn’t typically support changes that cut into companies’ profit margins. But Panera doesn’t have to worry about that after its $7.5 billion acquisition by JAB Holdings earlier this year – a change Shaich says gives him freedom to focus on the long term instead of what he called “short-term stupid” strategies.
While Panera’s stock rose 8,000% over the past 20 years, being a private company means Shaich doesn’t have to worry about activist investors’ meddling or investor criticism when a new strategy doesn’t immediately drive sales. If Panera were still public, Shaich says, he’d most likely have to deal with pushback from investors after announcing something like the new cup.
Then, there are other perks of going private.
“We don’t have to worry about Ron sneezing on an earnings call and having that impact shares,” Sara Burnett, Panera’s director of wellness and food policy, said.