Panera turns out to be very good at having its bread and eating it, too.

Or selling it to be eaten, I guess.

Two examples.

One is, this commercial:

This ad is sort of harmless, in terms of production. (As far as a similar execution, I’m a much bigger fan of these Cracker Barrel commercials.)

So Panera gets credit for “Living Consciously” in very broad strokes—watch the ad a couple of times, and I bet you’re so engrossed in watching the “Rube Goldberg”/OK Go-style contraption that you essentially walk away remembering they donate their bread. That’s good, of course, but not unique to them. Still, overall they get a generally positive afterglow.

It’s not the strongest commitment in the world. It reminds me of the “generally doing good things” approach that Starbucks, a brand with a similar set of loyal fans and defenders, shows toward sustainable coffee farming.

It’s certainly less specific than, say, Firehouse Subs charity work. And that’s fine. To each concept their own charity.

Oh wait, I think I remember something about anti-biotic-free chicken. Who does that make a person think of, hmmmm?

So in Panera’s case, they get credit for stylish and delicious carbohydrates, and a generally benign but positive effect on the world without committing to much.

Which leads the other example of them getting credit for something, but also not having to risk much.

Announcing—and yet, because it’s secret, not actually announcing—The Panera Secret Menu. Tell your friends. But in a quite voice.
Announcing—and yet, because it’s secret, not actually announcing—The Panera Secret Menu. Tell your friends. But in a quiet voice.

They have a Secret Menu (like In-n-Out!) but they admit they can stop doing it at any time and, since it was never promoted, it will be like it was never there. “What Secret Menu? I don’t know what you’re talking about, ma’am.”

And on top of that, it’s a gluten-free menu: so they can attract my gluten-intolerant sister, who learned of it by word-of-mouth and NPR, without ever publicly admitting that gluten and carbs are anything to worry about.

And they get all the positive “cool”/“in the know” effects of having the Secret Menu to begin with.

Put that in the context of the heartwarming social media story last spring where a Panera employee unhesitatingly did The Right Thing by serving a dying Grandma chowder on a day when there was not supposed to be chowder available, and you have a brand that’s been quietly and carefully making their pecan braid and carrot cake with walnuts, and eating it, too.

Nicely played, Panera.