Panera Bread Chases Chipotle Mexican Grill in the Sustainable Race

An expansion of Panera Bread's sustainability advertising campaign might be the key to helping the brand through the tough times.

Feb 24, 2014 at 4:30PM

Last year, the Food and Drug Administration made a shocking discovery. Contrary to popular opinion, the solution to animals being sick more often because they're crammed together like toes in a ballet shoe isn't to constantly medicate the animals -- in fact, that's a bad idea. In December, the FDA put drug companies on notice, telling them that they had 90 days to add labels to their products indicating that the drugs should be used only on sick animals. 

In January, Panera Bread (NASDAQ:PNRA) celebrated its 10th year of sourcing meat raised without the use of excess antibiotics. Cutting down on the processed nature of the food it serves has become a mark of pride for Panera, and the success of Chipotle Mexican Grill (NYSE:CMG) has no doubt had some effect on how the brand portrays itself.

The value of sustainability
Over the last decade or so, a movement has been growing in almost every sector -- clean and green. Auto manufacturers are touting their high gas mileage, banks are reporting on their sustainability, and even Web hosts are singing the renewable energy song. While everyone is on the bandwagon, there are a few drivers up front, leading the way.

Since its inception, Chipotle has made a huge deal out of the fact that it uses sustainable and, when available, local ingredients. Chipotle uses organically grown ingredients, sources beans that have been cultivated in a specific manner, and recently added a vegan sofritas filling to the menu. Almost all of that good work makes it way right into the company's advertising as well.

Panera has also been doing the work for a while, but the focus hasn't been as sharp. Over the past year, though, the business has realized the value in its good works. Now Panera is talking about the food it donates, the meat it sources, and the community cafes it runs, where customers who can't afford food can still eat. 

Why even bother?
There's certainly an argument to be made about the value of any specific sustainability action. Maybe it makes sense to offset your carbon footprint, maybe not. What you can't argue with, though, is the success that Chipotle has had. While the business is driven by its fast and flavorful food, it's also getting a boost from its self-portrait, painted as the brand that cares. Over the last 12 months, the company's stock has hammered the return of the S&P 500.

Panera, on the other hand, has put up a lackluster showing. Bad weather has put the brand on the back foot, and through the beginning of February, the road was still looking bumpy. By adding a feel-good sustainability component to the brand message, Panera is hoping to bring in extra traffic even when the weather turns against it.

As the last quarter showed, there's still some work to be done. Chipotle had no problem impressing the market with its early winter results, showing that when the going gets tough, the masses are headed to its restaurants, not Panera's. Still, there's a lot of value in the work that Panera is doing, and it just takes a few good ad campaigns to bring that value to bear on the bottom line. With close to a year of lag time in major marketing campaigns, this may be the quarter that Panera starts to really show some upside from its sourcing.

Sustain your own growth
Millions of Americans have waited on the sidelines since the market meltdown in 2008 and 2009, too scared to invest and put their money at further risk. Yet those who've stayed out of the market have missed out on huge gains and put their financial futures in jeopardy. In our brand-new special report, "Your Essential Guide to Start Investing Today," The Motley Fool's personal finance experts show you why investing is so important and what you need to do to get started. Click here to get your copy today -- it's absolutely free.

Andrew Marder has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends and owns shares of Chipotle Mexican Grill and Panera Bread. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

1 Key Step to Get Rich

Our mission at The Motley Fool is to help the world invest better. Whether that’s helping people overcome their fear of stocks all the way to offering clear and successful guidance on complicated-sounding options trades, we can help.

Feb 1, 2016 at 4:54PM

To be perfectly clear, this is not a get-rich action that my Foolish colleagues and I came up with. But we wouldn't argue with the approach.

A 2015 Business Insider article titled, "11 websites to bookmark if you want to get rich" rated The Motley Fool as the #1 place online to get smarter about investing.

"The Motley Fool aims to build a strong investment community, which it does by providing a variety of resources: the website, books, a newspaper column, a radio [show], and [newsletters]," wrote (the clearly insightful and talented) money reporter Kathleen Elkins. "This site has something for every type of investor, from basic lessons for beginners to investing commentary on mutual funds, stock sectors, and value for the more advanced."

Our mission at The Motley Fool is to help the world invest better, so it's nice to receive that kind of recognition. It lets us know we're doing our job.

Whether that's helping the entirely uninitiated overcome their fear of stocks all the way to offering clear and successful guidance on complicated-sounding options trades, we want to provide our readers with a boost to the next step on their journey to financial independence.

Articles and beyond

As Business Insider wrote, there are a number of resources available from the Fool for investors of all levels and styles.

In addition to the dozens of free articles we publish every day on our website, I want to highlight two must-see spots in your tour of

For the beginning investor

Investing can seem like a Big Deal to those who have yet to buy their first stock. Many investment professionals try to infuse the conversation with jargon in order to deter individual investors from tackling it on their own (and to justify their often sky-high fees).

But the individual investor can beat the market. The real secret to investing is that it doesn't take tons of money, endless hours, or super-secret formulas that only experts possess.

That's why we created a best-selling guide that walks investors-to-be through everything they need to know to get started. And because we're so dedicated to our mission, we've made that available for free.

If you're just starting out (or want to help out someone who is), go to, drop in your email address, and you'll be able to instantly access the quick-read guide ... for free.

For the listener

Whether it's on the stationary exercise bike or during my daily commute, I spend a lot of time going nowhere. But I've found a way to make that time benefit me.

The Motley Fool offers five podcasts that I refer to as "binge-worthy financial information."

Motley Fool Money features a team of our analysts discussing the week's top business and investing stories, interviews, and an inside look at the stocks on our radar. It's also featured on several dozen radio stations across the country.

The hosts of Motley Fool Answers challenge the conventional wisdom on life's biggest financial issues to reveal what you really need to know to make smart money moves.

David Gardner, co-founder of The Motley Fool, is among the most respected and trusted sources on investing. And he's the host of Rule Breaker Investing, in which he shares his insights into today's most innovative and disruptive companies ... and how to profit from them.

Market Foolery is our daily look at stocks in the news, as well as the top business and investing stories.

And Industry Focus offers a deeper dive into a specific industry and the stories making headlines. Healthcare, technology, energy, consumer goods, and other industries take turns in the spotlight.

They're all informative, entertaining, and eminently listenable ... and I don't say that simply because the hosts all sit within a Nerf-gun shot of my desk. Rule Breaker Investing and Answers contain timeless advice, so you might want to go back to the beginning with those. The other three take their cues from the market, so you'll want to listen to the most recent first. All are available at

But wait, there's more

The book and the podcasts – both free ... both awesome – also come with an ongoing benefit. If you download the book, or if you enter your email address in the magical box at the podcasts page, you'll get ongoing market coverage sent straight to your inbox.

Investor Insights is valuable and enjoyable coverage of everything from macroeconomic events to investing strategies to our analyst's travels around the world to find the next big thing. Also free.

Get the book. Listen to a podcast. Sign up for Investor Insights. I'm not saying that any of those things will make you rich ... but Business Insider seems to think so.

Compare Brokers