Panera Sees Social Responsibility as Driving Growth

The QSR’s success comes as other companies struggle with balancing advocacy and broad appeal.

July 06, 2023

The Wall Street Journal reports that “some CEOs are rethinking how—or whether—to weigh in on sensitive political or social matters.”

“Executives are finding out how easy it is to leave everyone unhappy,” according to the article.

“We run a business. We don’t run a political organization. We don’t run a religious organization, and we don’t run a social organization,” Tim Knavish, chief executive of PPG, told the Journal. “However, [we] recognize that we operate in a society. We hire employees with opinions and views. We work with customers that have opinions and views. So we have to take all that into account.”

In this complex environment, Panera points to its embrace of sustainability as key to its success. In an interview with QSR Magazine, executives pointed to a long list of Panera milestones, including serving chicken raised without antibiotics since the mid-2000s, committing to the welfare of its broiler chickens in 2016 and moving towards 100% eggs from cage-free chickens.

Panera also works with the World Resources Institute (WRI) to label climate-friendly meals, meaning foods that have a lower carbon footprint.

Panera aims to be “climate positive” by 2050, meaning it wants to take away more carbon from the environment than it emits.

Niren Chaudhary, the chairman of Panera, told the magazine, “Whenever we look at the reasons for which consumers choose us versus our competitors, overwhelmingly, the biggest response is that, ‘We think that Panera is best-in-class in serving food that we feel good about eating. We feel much better after we leave a Panera, having had a meal than we did when we went in because of the quality of the ingredients.’”

Chaudhary acknowledged it’s a balance. “We have to be profitable,” Chaudhary said. “Our investors have to get the appropriate return that they deserve.”