Par-Baking at Panera Bread

Panera Bread has received a lot of attention for planned menu changes that add new items and remove some old favorites, but the company’s planned changes go even further.

One of the potential changes is how the bakery functions. At the moment, Panera’s bread dough is made at a fresh dough factory (FDF), and immediately transported to individual stores to be baked fresh daily.

Panera Bread is now considering the use of par-baking, the process of partially baking bread or pastries (generally to 80%), and then rapidly cooling and freezing the products. The process allows bread and pastries to be stored until needed without going stale. The bread is then “finished” through additional cooking.

It is interesting that Panera Bread, which started out as a bakery making fresh breads and pastries daily, is now moving to par-baking.

Video Spotlight:  

This post is based on the Nation’s Restaurant News article, Is There More to Panera’s Menu Overhaul Than Meets the Eye?, by Joanna Fantozzi, March 5, 2024; the Eat This, Not That! article, 6 Major Changes You’ll See at Panera in 2024, by Zoe Strozewski, April 30, 2024; and the YouTube videos in the Spotlight. Image source: Oscar Carrascosa Martinez/Westend61 GmbH / Alamy Stock Photo

Discussion Questions:

1. What operational advantages does par-baked bread offer?

Guidance: Panera’s current approach requires fresh dough to be delivered to stores, and then baked almost immediately. This approach can lead to not enough of an item being produced or too many. Par-baking allows baking to be completed throughout the day if desired.

Inventory management will be improved as restaurants will not have to finish baking the bread and pastries on the day they arrive, unlike the current approach which requires dough to be baked that day. Also, fewer deliveries would be required.

It will also reduce the number of employees needed at each restaurant. The preparation of bread and pastries will be done at a regional plant, and then shipped to the restaurant. Less preparation at the store means fewer bakers needed.

Finally, consolidated par-baking allows for more efficiencies in production, and better inventory control. The par-baking facility is able to spread out production of par-baked goods if desired.

2. What are the drawbacks to par-baked bread?

Guidance: The biggest issue will be quality. Panera Bread has promoted daily baking of fresh items in the past. So, this change goes against the earlier approach.

For the highest quality par-baked goods, the recipe will need to be changed. Therefore, new recipes must be developed.

Additionally, added freezer space will be needed at the restaurants to store par-baked goods.

3. Would you recommend that Panera Bread switch to par-baking? Why or why not?

Guidance: Answers will vary. This is the age-old question of efficiency versus quality. Par-baking obviously offers many operational efficiencies, which is especially important with the costs of many inputs increasing at the same time as customers are being squeezed by inflation, and are very concerned about increasing prices.

However, Panera Bread’s foundation is in fresh-baked bread and pastries that many customers feel is of superior quality.

So, this is a difficult choice. One that many restaurants are facing today.

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