Did you know that there are five Panera Bread cafes in St. Louis that will allow you to pay whatever price you wish for some turkey chili (in a bread bowl, no less!)? And that they’ve been doing this for three years? Now, the national chain – which is based in St. Louis – is bringing this concept to all of its 48 locations in the St. Louis region. Patrons who order the chili (suggested price $5.89, including tax) can pay whatever they wish and all above-cost proceeds go right back to the community, funding St. Louis hunger initiatives.
Panera implies that this program shares the responsibility of addressing hometown hunger. It sounds like it’s effective: the head of its foundation (Panera Bread Foundation) estimates that 60 percent of customers continue to pay the listed menu price, and the remaining 40 percent is split between customers who pay less, and those who pay more. What a great way to involve consumers – with very little effort from the consumer.
The company does not promote this in their communication efforts. No advertising, no massive PR blitz. As a consumer, it’s music to my ears and makes me want to absolve my love-hate relationship with bread, run immediately to Panera and purchase a turkey chili bread bowl – at full price. As a marketer, however, part of me wonders if Panera might be selling itself a bit short in letting both loyal and lapsed customers about this effort. I don’t eat at Panera on a regular basis, but knowing one opened a few towns over, I’m now more inclined to stop in – even though the pay-what-you-can option isn’t available here in California.
Other brands, such as Yoga to the People in NYC (and Seattle, SF, Arizona….), follow a pay-what-you-can model and attract droves of dedicated followers and brand enthusiasts. One just questions how this model impacts the bottom line. Maybe that’s not all that matters for these brands. For Panera, it appears to be here for the long-haul and I have no doubt their brand will, too.