How Panera Bread Navigated Covid, the Labor Market, Inflation and More

We all know that we are behind the Paris agreement targets. We are running out of time, and it is such a massive challenge. That’s the reason why we believe it would be wrong for a company like us not to lead the way on this.

Have you seen the effects of climate change on the business at all yet?

That’s clearly a headwind and a risk. It is something that we watch very closely on the supply chain side, because we have such a high quality of ingredients. So I think the impact of climate change on crops and harvests is certainly a threat around the corner. This will unfold in ways that one can’t imagine.

How is the company adapting to the tight labor market?

The war over talent is going to be a significant headwind and a challenge for the industry. But I think there’s a structural element to it as you go forward, particularly in the restaurant space. It’s going to be harder and harder to recruit high-quality leaders into the restaurant business, given other options that people are looking at, like the gig economy or becoming an entrepreneur. People are re-evaluating and asking, “How do I want to spend my life, and how do I want to show up?”

We have invested heavily in capability building and training and retention and recognition. But the bigger challenge in the longer term is how do you attract more people into the restaurant sector? And then within that, how does Panera become the No. 1 employer of choice?

Have supply chain disruptions affected the business?

There is definitely a massive disruption on the supply side. There’s no question about it. And that, in turn, is leading to inflation and everything else. We have a lot of strategic suppliers who work for us, and thanks to the long-term nature of our contracts, we’ve been able to navigate the supply chain shortages in the pandemic remarkably well, except for items like packaging, which have been very, very erratic. Also, our procurement is supposed to be entirely within the US, so there’s less volatility in terms of the global disruptions. So I feel pretty confident that as the supply chain returns to normal we’ll see some easing of the inflation component.

What about just wages? Some of the starting salaries for your entry-level workers are still close to minimum wage.

For our frontline workers, our philosophy is that we want to be higher than the local competition. Whatever the local competitive environment is, we want to be better than what exists out there, and compete on that basis. But we will differentiate with our culture, our growth opportunities and our training. Because it is not limited to a financial transaction. It’s more than that. It’s how you’re treated, how you’re respected, how you grow, what the brand stands for, things like the impact agenda. People want to work for companies that stand for something and that have meaning.

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