Another Social Media Food Experiment

A national restaurant chain is relying solely on social media to promote its new ‘secret’ menu.

Panera-Bread-LogogreenPanera Bread has rolled out a series of low-carb, high-protein items at its 1,600 stores across the U.S.  The thing is, you won’t walk in to a Panera store and find the items on one of the overhead menu boards.  It’s a ‘secret’ menu, even though company officials deny that it’s truly a secret.  Reportedly, you can walk up to a cashier and ask to be handed a printed menu featuring the 6 new items.  So, why hide the new products?

Panera ventured into the low-carb arena once before, unsuccessfully.  The company launched, and promoted, a line of low-carb bread which was costly to produce and not well-received by customers.  So, this time, the launch of new items is not with traditional ballyhoo.  Instead, the company is spreading the word on its social media channels.  Panera officials admit the new items are of a niche variety, not sought after by a broad customer base.  So, why not roll them out with a low-cost high-reward approach?

panerafbThink about Panera Bread’s business model: selling common, homemade-like items at an elevated price, similar to Starbucks.  So, when a successful, innovative chain tries something new, its bound to be in the spotlight of business media.  This low-cost, almost under the radar, social media promotional plan will help the company avoid embarrassment if the initiative is a flop.  Think of it as a well-played effort to accommodate a small portion of the customer base without making a large corporate shift.  Remember that mantra about not being able to please everyone?

Followers of the Panera Bread Facebook page have probably seen a couple posts in recent days on the new offerings.  A post from the company two days ago contained a link to a special introductory page on the My Panera portion of its website.  A brilliant move as My Panera is the company’s well-promoted customer rewards program.  The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports the post received more than 3,300 likes and hundreds of shares within 24 hours of the posting.  The company then posted today a follow-up post (promoted as a perk of following the company page) linking to a media article covering the new menu.  That post has also received hundreds of likes and shares.

Well done, Panera.  You’ve launched an exciting new product line and will be able to measure the result of the social media-only promotional efforts. Certainly, a case study for others hoping to do the same.

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