Source Sleuth

Source Sleuth

Panera Bread® is proud of our fresh ingredients, but did you ever wonder where we find the items we choose to use? Here’s an insider’s look at our food-sourcing process.

The secret to great taste is real food—select produce carried in from the field at just the right moment of readiness, for example. The Panera Bread® food team is constantly inspired by dishes from around the world and we incorporate those special flavors into our menu. But the logistical challenge of delivering fresh, flavorful, international, and “clean” ingredients to over 2,000 bakery-cafes nationwide and in Canada is no small task. Learn how our food-sourcing team makes it happen.

Step 1: Discover. We search the globe for the best ingredients we can find. “We travel 12 months a year,” says Panera Bread Food Team member John Taylor. “We don’t hold meetings in conference rooms, because great ingredients can’t be found in an office.” Instead, we take the time to browse local farmers’ markets, meet growers in the fields, or sample street food in other countries.

Here’s a little-known fact: “We have a full-time agricultural expert on our Quality Assurance team who spends countless hours out in the fields inspecting our produce, talking to farmers and analyzing growing conditions. This means that Panera oversees the freshness and quality of produce from the source”

Take one of the newest additions to our menu: quinoa, found in our salads and Power Almond Quinoa Oatmeal. “Finding a quality and sustainable supply of quinoa is important,” says John, adding that cooking quinoa perfectly is also essential. “We have developed a small go-to group of craft producers who deal with precision cooking of specialty ingredients, like quinoa.”

Take one of the latest additions to our menu: sprouted grains. This ingredient has actually been in the works for some time. To bring this nutritious, delicious grain to our bakery products, we had to first find the right source. “We found a supplier who understands the benefits of sprouted grains, and the nutritional relevance of what we are trying to deliver,” John says. “That was the key to getting this ingredient from field to oven.”

Step 2: Think differently. How differently? To start, we respect the natural growing season. “We work with suppliers who understand what Panera’s aim is,” John explains. “We share our philosophy about food production in the U.S. “Just because berries are available year-round doesn’t mean we should eat them year-round. We don’t ever want to compromise on flavor.”

Some ingredients—like fresh blueberries—have a short growing season in most places they’re grown, so they are on our menu only during certain months of the year: Think summer and our Strawberry Poppyseed & Chicken Salad. Others, like crisp romaine and chicken raised without antibiotics, are year-round menu staples.

Step 3: Network. It’s a continuous effort to align ourselves with farmers, growers, and suppliers who have the ability to move ingredients into all our bakery-cafes. “And if we can’t find the right supplier to do the job, we’ll self-distribute,” John says, which means Panera often distributes highly perishable ingredients via our own transportation network.

No matter what mode of transportation is used, delivering the ingredients at just the right time is critical to the success of our sourcing network. These foods need to move at a constant and steady clip to take advantage of freshness and flavor. “Because if we don’t deliver great taste, we aren’t doing our job,” John says.

Step 4: Start again. See Step 1.