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Panera's Making Some Big Changes In 2024

Panera Bread sign
Panera Bread sign - Scott Olson/Getty Images

Panera Bread has announced via press release that 2024 is going to bring with it a substantial overhaul of the chain's menu, with the changes taking effect April 4. How substantial? The press release proclaims it's the most significant batch of changes the menu has undergone in Panera's entire history, with numerous new items being introduced and several others getting the ax.

But why is such a big shake-up is happening now? Drayton Martin, SVP, Brand Building at Panera, told Daily Meal that it's all based on feedback from customers and employees: "The new era at Panera is the biggest menu transformation in our brand history and is a journey we began last summer. We've listened to over 30,000 guests and team members about what they love most about us -- this led us to refocus on our core menu offerings, bringing new innovations, more in every bite, and better value in our soups, salads, sandwiches, and mac & cheese."

Hardcore Panera regulars will likely have their own opinions on the actual value of the changes and want to know as much as they can about what to expect from the new Panera menu. Here's a breakdown of the biggest changes we know about.

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Bacon Mac & Cheese Is Coming To The Regular Panera Menu

Panera Bacon Mac & Cheese
Panera Bacon Mac & Cheese - Panera Bread

Most of the new items coming to Panera Bread's menu fall under the trusty salad and sandwich categories, but there is an item that's kind of in a class of its own: Bacon Mac & Cheese. What used to be the domain of creative home kitchen engineering (and a special item made available for delivery in 2018) is now a permanent fixture of the new Panera menu.

Bacon Mac & Cheese's description in Panera's press release is pretty mouthwatering, especially if you enjoy both cheese and bacon at the same time: "Tender shell pasta in a blend of rich cheeses including our tangy aged white cheddar sauce, topped with applewood smoked bacon" (via PR Newswire). Two great tastes, as the saying goes, go great together, and now even the most casual Panera newcomers will be able to introduce themselves to this hearty treat.

Four New Sandwiches And Four New Salads Are On Their Way

New Panera sandwiches
New Panera sandwiches - Panera Bread

Panera Bread's sandwiches and salads are a cornerstone of the chain's menu, and in its self-proclaimed biggest menu transformation ever, Panera has delivered four new salads and four new sandwiches that should interest anyone who enjoys lunch at the restaurant.

The new Panera sandwiches include the Toasted Italiano, the Chicken Bacon Rancher, the Ciabatta Cheesesteak, and the Tomato Basil BLT. The sandwiches seem to be more or less self-explanatory from their names, which is also true of the new Panera salads: Mediterranean Chicken Greens with Grains, Southwest Chicken Ranch, Balsamic Chicken Greens with Grains, and Ranch Cobb Salad.

As you can see, these sandwiches and salads are new spins on established classics, something that's quite intentional. Drayton Martin noted to Daily Meal, "We set out to create new menu items focused fully on guest-inspired, widely loved new flavors, done the Panera way -- we focused on value, adding more to each bite and bringing different flavors to the table with new salad dressings, meats and cheeses, spice blends, and hearty grains. Our guests have been on the journey with us, tasting and reacting to each new recipe. And this week, it all finally comes to life -- our guests can now enjoy out these nine new entrees and 12 enhanced classics at their local bakery-cafés nationwide. We know these exciting and craveable flavors will keep them coming back for more."

Multiple New Menu Items Will Be Under $10

Stack of bills with $10 on top
Stack of bills with $10 on top - Abzee/Getty Images

Everybody has noticed how food prices have been going up lately, but as Drayton Martin put it to Daily Meal, Panera's menu changeup was done with value as well as flavor in mind: "We are following our guests and what they love and included them on the journey to land on our new menu. We've enhanced our classics with more chicken and steak on many of our salads and sandwiches, reimagined familiar recipes for even better taste and focused on value by adding more new menu options below $10."

Spending less than $10 on an entrée is an increasing rarity these days, so it's nice to see that the new Panera lineup won't involve a menu-wide raise in prices. And it appears that concentration on value is also extending to reformulations of some preexisting Panera menu items as well. Altogether, 12 familiar Panera items have received what the brand describes in the press release as "recipe enhancements," including the Bravo Club Sandwich, the Chipotle Chicken Avocado Melt, and the Fuji Apple Chicken Salad.

New recipes can be tough to judge once the old versions fall into the exclusive domain of memory, but if you're a fan of any of these newly redesigned Panera items, perhaps you will taste the difference -- and hopefully they will indeed be an improvement!

Charged Lemonade Will Still Be Available

Panera Charged Lemonade signage
Panera Charged Lemonade signage - Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Widespread controversy isn't something anyone would expect from a chain restaurant as unassuming as Panera Bread. But over on the drinks side of the Panera menu, the highly caffeinated Charged Lemonade has earned the wrong kind of publicity thanks to multiple wrongful death lawsuits, as reported by CNN.

Panera locations have rolled out extra signage warning customers not to indulge in Charged Lemonade or its other Charged Sips drinks if they have any medical issues or sensitivities related to caffeine, and eagle-eyed viewers of the website for chain's subscription-based Sip Club might notice the following disclaimer: "Any Charged Sips orders will be filled for you by an associate.​" Some might be surprised that the caffeinated beverage line is surviving such an extensive menu changeover at Panera, but removing the infamous items from the menu has the potential to be seen as some sort of admission of guilt on the part of the chain. So, the caffeinated drinks are staying on the menu for now.

Meat Standards Are Being Lowered

Raw meat being injected
Raw meat being injected - D-keine/Getty Images

Charged Lemonade's continued presence on the Panera Bread menu isn't the only aspect of the chain's upcoming changes that you're not likely to see in a Panera commercial. In early 2024, the company began removing certain language from its marketing materials, namely phrasing like "No Antibiotics Ever," "Vegetarian Fed," "Grass Fed Pasture Raised," and "Animal Welfare," a sign that it was loosening its internal standards for meats in its menu items, similar to the major change recently announced by Chick-Fil-A. Company documents seen by Reuters in March confirmed this.

It's somewhat harrowing for a Panera fan to read about, and the new lower standards are reportedly in preparation for an upcoming initial public offering, something that may be behind the splashy new menu changes as well. The internal documents cited by Reuters state the company can save about $21 million per year by relaxing some of these standards, so diners who are picky about antibiotics or animal welfare may have to find a new sandwich spot.

Flatbreads Are On Their Way Out

A Panera flatbread pizza
A Panera flatbread pizza - Panera Bread

In discussing how decisions about the new Panera Bread menu were made, Martin admitted to Daily Meal that there are trade-offs involved in any major change. "We are taking off some menu categories like flatbread pizza, but it's all in service of refocusing on the core offerings our guests love from us," the Panera rep said.

Yes, fans of Panera's line of flatbread pizzas and other flatbread offerings are going to have a disappointing year, because flatbreads are taking their leave from the chain's menu. Panera was introduced the flatbreads in 2019 as part of an effort to increase viable dinner options at the restaurant, and it may be that Panera is now refocusing more on its lunchtime basics over dinner ambitions.

Unlike Panera's little-remembered first attempt at pizza way back in 2006, the more recent flatbreads were popular, and the newly discontinued items will be missed by Panera fans as the new menu rollout is completed. Hopefully the biggest flatbread lovers out there have already had a chance to say their farewells.

Kitchens Will Rely More On Frozen Food

Panera interior
Panera interior - Smith Collection/gado/Getty Images

Another change reportedly coming to Panera Bread is unfortunately a disheartening one. We all like to imagine our sliced breads, pastries, and bread bowls being prepared in-store by Panera bakers, but the big menu shakeup comes as the chain has seemingly deprioritized fresh baked goods in favor of frozen foodstuffs. In early 2024, Panera employees told Nation's Restaurant News that bakers have had their hours reduced or eliminated entirely as part of what Panera ironically calls its "Bakery of the Future" concept. This basically entails more freezer space and fewer actual bakers in the kitchen, which is probably good for Panera's bottom line but bad for anyone hoping for fresh ingredients.

One source, a Panera baker trainer specialist, told NRN that frozen food isn't new to Panera kitchens, but some of the recent changes go beyond the pale: "We've always had some level of premade frozen sweets or pastries [because] for a business the size of Panera, it did not make sense to make everything from scratch. ... What's new is frozen sweets that take little to no prep before or after they come out of the oven. Our croissants, pecan braids and cinnamon rolls are just a few items that have been completely redone to remove any prep before coming out of the oven, and minimal finishing after."

Time will tell whether Panera customers will accept or reject these new changes, or whether Panera will have to go back to the drawing board for another overhaul.

Read the original article on Daily Meal