Panera Intros Weight-Loss Promo; Outs 'Secret' Menu

by , Jan 2, 2014, 9:16 AM
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Panera Bread is jumping on the New Year weight-loss resolution bandwagon with a "Panera Lose It! Challenge" designed to drive sales of its heretofore supposedly "secret" Power Menu offerings and memberships in its MyPanera loyalty program.

Starting Jan. 2, consumers are being challenged to lose five pounds in six weeks by dining on the Power Menu's high-protein, low-carb, heavy-on-the-veggies bowls, wraps and salads, and tracking their progress with a free, dedicated app (for iPhones or Androids). The app tracks calories burned, minutes exercised and pounds lost, and lets users see other members currently participating. 

Existing and new MyPanera members can also receive a new "motivator" each week during the challenge, as well as chances for weekly rewards and a luxury (Sandals resort) vacation grand prize.

Panera launched the Power Menu throughout the U.S. (not available in Canada) — featuring two breakfast bowls and four lunch/dinner combos — at the start of 2013, following a successful test-run in New York in 2012. 

For the launch, Panera used the buzz-driving tactic of (oxymoronically) promoting the Power Menu as a "secret" or "hidden" menu. 

The chain has used social media outreach to MyPanera members and brand fans/followers, as well as media/blogger outreach, to spread the word about the new options, but the items have up to this point not been listed on its menu boards or otherwise visibly promoted within the restaurants. 

Diners have had to request the "secret" menu, whereupon they are handed laminated Power Menus.

Panera is not alone in this approach: In-N-Out Burger, Taco Bell and McDonald's have also sometimes used social media to promote special, not-on-the-regular-menu items (like standard burger selections served sans buns). In fact, "secret" menus have become downright faddish. 

In Panera's case, the tactic allowed it to speak to a select audience —  Panera fans who can't or don't want to eat the chain's staple product, bread — "without the investment or infrastructure of putting an item on the menu," the chain's founder, chairman and CEO, Ron Shaich, told USA Today.

However, the Power Menu is included in Panera's online menu. 

Further, starting on Jan. 1, two of the six items (the Power Chicken Hummus Bowl and the Power Breakfast Egg White Bowl with Roasted Turkey) are now appearing on the restaurants' menu boards. 

With the "Lose It! Challenge" also now underway, the Power Menu clearly will be less of a secret than ever.

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