From the name and logo up, Heckler Associates was integral in the development and national expansion of a promising 20-store bakery café chain named Saint Louis Bread Company. Over the course of 12 years, Heckler crystallized and guided the Panera Bread brand identity and marketing at all levels of design, advertising and strategy, and turned the store experience into a powerful brand medium. The result has been the fastest-growing franchise food chain in America.
Saint Louis Bread Company was a 20 bakery-café chain based in St. Louis when Ron Shaich and Au Bon Pain bought the company in 1993. They saw great potential in the company, and hired Heckler Associates to re-name and reposition the brand for national prominence
with its strong association with a single city, the name saint louis bread company would not be effective for a national brand. it might establish the bakery-café as an outsider chain and risk being perceived as inferior to a local baker.
A long name also invites shortened nicknames that can be generic or confusing. Ultimately Saint Louis Bread Company was not unique enough, and it could not be legally protected. By contrast, the name Panera was unique, legally protectable, and representative of a brand destined for everyone's neighborhood.
Strategic Frameworking completed an in-depth study to learn more about the brand’s potential audiences and their priorities. The client's hunches were confirmed. They asked Heckler Associates to help redefine the brand, articulate its mission and values, and identify core attributes and differentials. This fundamental recipe for brand positioning and brand design would guide the efforts of all involved in the rest of the re-branding initiative—the company itself, its suppliers and its service providers, including architects, designers and Heckler Associates.
Acting upon our recommendation, Panera established a brand board made up of senior management, Strategic Frameworking and Heckler Associates that would meet biannually to discuss any emerging, strategic brand development issues. These focused discussions with key marketing operations managers on issues of channel distribution, market development strategy, the role of advertising and neighborhood marketing, and dissemination of brand culture throughout the company proved to be instrumental in the company’s rapid development of a strong consumer brand.
In the overall approach to brand re-design, Heckler Associates created a new name and brand, design all in-store communication pieces and work closely with the architects designing the store interior. These elements were all immediate brand touch-points for the consumer. A new, fully realized brand positioning was going to be a critical asset for the management team to use to recruit strong franchisees that would fuel strategic national expansion.
The central image of the logo was a painterly line illustration of a woman with flowing hair caressing a loaf of bread. She came to be known as "Mother Bread" and symbolized the core essence of the brand's differential. Interestingly, the process of making sourdough bread requires a small piece of the dough used to make the previous batch of bread dough. This starter piece is often called the "mother." Whenever Panera opens stores in a new region, a piece of the original starter that was created in the 1980s is lovingly carried to the new bakery to ensure that original Panera quality and character will rise again and again.
Whether in a new store or a remodeled one, Panera introduced its new brand with a grand opening promotion, a "Celebration" as they are known at Panera, with their most delicious differential front and center.
just outside chicago in 1996, the new panera bread brand and new store prototype debuted with a grand-opening "celebration" supported by advertising, direct mail, and in-store banners. first-year sales were 30 percent higher than any other bakery-café in the chain.
The Panera management team used the new store prototype to build its nationwide franchise system. After seeing the store, the original owner of Saint Louis Bread Company reinvested and became a franchisee with multiple stores. Experienced, successful franchisees from other restaurant chains—including the largest McDonalds franchisee at the time—also made the move to Panera, helping the company achieve rapid growth across the country.
The name change also signaled an upgraded restaurant experience, and customers immediately warmed to Panera's unique mix of comfort, fun, great food and great service. Panera’s success helped define a new category of dining: fast casual. Sales remained strong in the renamed bakery-cafés and improved dramatically over the next year.
Working intimately with Panera’s architects, Heckler Associates developed the entire brand design and communications system in the new bakery-cafés to showcase the brand's differential every day and in seasonal promotions. Every communication message started with the story of freshly baked bread. Throughout the store, original illustrations of bakers and baking created an artful, engaging interior. Marketing materials and packaging accentuated the handcrafted nature of Panera bread and the way its quality made everything on the menu taste better. The look and feel of everything in the bakery-café was designed to be warm and welcoming, personal rather than corporate.
But we still had to keep the line moving. We designed a system of wall and handheld menus organized by day part with easy-to-find seasonal specials. Freshness and handmade quality were evoked by the selection of paper, typeface and method of display—including canvas signs displayed on quilting hoops. This handcrafted touch helped boost the sales of Panera’s most popular and profitable items.
With new products to introduce, the second-generation Panera bakery-café was a fresh take on traditional artisan bread with the virtual conveniences of a digital-age neighborhood gathering place.
the new store focused more keenly on the art of bread, its irresistible aromas, textures and tastes, and the craft behind it. the perfect example was panera’s new artisan breads. and it accommodated the ways customers were using the bakery-cafes by creating a variety of seating and worktable options, and adding wi-fi.
Once again, Heckler Associates worked as a team with Panera's architect to make sure every surface reflected the brand's uniqueness. To signal deep roots in the culture of bread, the bakery case, positioned near the entry, maximized the multi-sensory delights of the baked goods. Original bread-centered artwork created a casual art gallery feel. The overall space was divided into smaller areas made for dining or relaxing between meal times. Wi-Fi and community gathering tables made Panera a great place for meetings, work and personal time.
Heckler Associates developed all grand opening communications that accompanied the rollout of the new design. We updated the wall menus and designed a new bread brochure to engage the consumer in the traditions of artisan bread as well as to list all the varieties offered. Table tents illustrated an aspect of baking as well as the seasonal theme and highlighted products. The newsletters we designed highlighted individual Panera bakers, recipes and more details on the art and history of bread. Beautifully illustrated Baker's Notes profiled each type of bread and ways to use it.
At Panera Bread, well-designed space and merchandising bring the brand story vividly to life, not only for customers but for employees. This welcoming space also serves as an important recruitment tool and benefit for employees. Good branding makes good operations.
Good visual merchandising invites continuous discovery by customers. And for Panera, seasonal merchandising provided another layer to store design. Throughout the year, Heckler Associates designed seasonal, holiday, product-launch or product-themed promotions to engage the customer throughout the store. These Celebrations included colorful banners introducing the seasonal theme and special products. We designed the banners to be artful, tasteful and inviting, like pieces customers might have in their own homes, the opposite of what one might expect to see in a fast-service restaurant.
One celebration banner in particular featured a popular Panera ingredient—Asiago cheese. Not everyone can pronounce that word at first glance so we created a funny, hand-drawn character with a thought bubble showing the phonetic spelling of "Say Ah-see-ah-go." It was one of our first celebrations and one of our favorites; Panera used it several times over the years.
Special menu items were announced by greeting stands at the end of the ordering line and were highlighted on menus. Impulse and add-on purchases were suggested at the cash wrap. Packaging, newsletters, literature and the web site all added to the brand story and the customer experience.
To complement the bread and extend the brand, we recommended that Panera develop a suite of retail products to broaden the Panera bread experience and add incremental sales.
heckler associates handled the launches of new products and services, including bread dipping sauces, salad dressings, coffee and catering, designing packaging as well as promotional materials.
We designed specialty packaging to stand out on the store shelves as well as well as created Panera’s basic packaging. The system we developed for everyday use in the bakery-café used kraft stock and a simple hand-drawn pattern as the backdrop to the Panera logo, making the components simple and cost-effective to produce, but also distinctive.
The number of Panera company-owned and franchised stores grew from approximately 50 bakery-cafes in 1996 to over 1000 bakery-cafes in 2006. Average store sales grew from approximately $1.2 million to $2.1 million during the same time. Meanwhile, Panera became a favorite in cities and towns across America, earning "Best of" awards in many categories.
Every market introduction was supported with a neighborhood marketing plan and a local media strategy to reach new customers quickly. Heckler Associates created grand opening radio, billboard and print ad campaigns plus direct mail that could easily be customized by market. Distribution of the creative across the country soon grew to the point that we set up an electronic system for resizing and broadcasting the print and radio ads.
Panera's sales growth had always come from word-of-mouth and local marketing; print, radio, direct mail and outdoor that Heckler Associates created. However, many of Panera's franchisees had previous experience with the large fast food chains and national TV campaigns. In 2001, the company decided to try national TV and we developed the media plan and Panera's first television campaign.
Panera saw an opportunity in the high volume of business at the bakery-cafes during breakfast and lunch and the realities of modern working. They developed a catering program with a limited menu. Packaging Panera menu items for easy, convenient use outside of the stores was a natural extension for the brand. To differentiate this program from the in-store experience, we created the name Via Panera, designed the logo and developed a unique, branded packaging system. It presented lunch and breakfast items in beautiful paper serving trays that were stacked in boxes designed for easy transport. The entire system was designed to be beautiful enough to place on the conference table in front of clients or guests.