New York City: Panera Bread Company, the St. Louis-based, bakery-café, fast-casual chain with 2,000-plus units in the U.S. and Canada, took the coveted prize “for innovation, collaboration and marketing of fresh produce,” at the iconic New York Produce Show’s “IdEation Fresh” Foodservice Forum on Dec. 13; culminating four days of multi-faceted, concurrent events held at the Jacob Javits Center and the New York Hilton.
Jim Prevor, president and editor-in-chief of PRODUCE BUSINESS magazine, presented the honor to Brian Walker, vice president of supply chain operations at Panera Bread on behalf of the company, amid cheers from an audience of foodservice industry leaders bridging all aspects of the supply chain, including culinarians, marketers and other key stakeholders.
Walker thanked the produce suppliers and service providers who have assisted Panera’s efforts to highlight fruits and vegetables on its menus.
Walker participated in a vibrant interactive dialogue of issues surrounding this year’s theme, “Produce R&D: Deconstructing the Menu Playbook.” Three separate panel discussions followed the path of produce items added to the menu — from conceptualization of a new menu item to distilling it into practical proof-of-concept and addressing rollout disrupters to the final stage of getting produce into each unit’s back of the house.
Walker emphasized a pivotal point in “the plant-forward train,” where it is time for the industry to go beyond the focus of marketing “what’s not in our products,” to promoting “what’s in our products.”
“For many years now, Panera Bread has been a leader in menuing delicious produce items, earning legions of fans nationwide,” Prevor noted. “With an emphasis on fresh items that are widely embraced, Panera Bread has earned its place among other leading restaurant operators that have won the ‘First in Fresh’ Award – Wendy’s in 2017 and PF Chang in 2018.”
Next year’s IdEATion Fresh Foodservice Forum will take place at the New York Hilton on December 11, following the New York Produce Show on December 10 at the Jacob Javits Center.