Corporate Responsibility & Panera’s Donation-Based Menus

At 48 Panera Bread locations in the St. Louis area, Panera is introducing its “pick your price” menu, that is, a bowl of turkey chili for which you, the customer, can pay any amount. Ariel Schwartz at Fast Company reports, “Instead of asking for payment, cashiers give customers a receipt telling them how much the item would normally cost; patrons can decide how much they want to pay, and leave their cash in a donation box (they can also swipe a credit card).”

Panera has seen great success by dedicating some of their stores to donation-based menus. Currently, there are five Panera Cares café locations, which are nonprofit Panera’s that use things such as day old bread to serve their customers. The bread is still fresh and sold at an amount that the consumer can pay.

Not all companies have to be Panera Bread – nor should they be. But in our world where great need is often found in our backyards, Panera has found a way to use what they’re good at to also give away to the community. Doing so has been beneficial to them: these donation-based cafes are bringing in 80% of the revenue of regularly operating Panera Bread locations. Likely, there are numerous other benefits to the company, least of which is the good press they’re receiving for their philanthropic menu and non-profit locations.

The idea of corporate giving can be a hotly debated topic, and rightly so. Like any other aspect of the workplace that affects corporate culture, there are sides to the argument that cannot be ignored from a business perspective. Is charitable giving good for your bottom line? In a global economy, how does a company know where to invest its charitable donations? Depending on where your charitable donations go, how does it reflect on your company in your community? What’s the use at all?

The Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance and Financial Regulation reports this: “A preponderance of academic research reports a positive association between socially responsible initiatives and economic success, particularly in recent years.” Research shows that in fact, corporate giving can help the bottom line in any number of ways. If anything, corporate giving positively connects your company name and brand with those receiving the benefits of the donation. Companies that give charitably will most likely have a different reputation in the neighborhood. You will inevitably get your name out to more people, share your brand or product with more people, and improve your reputation. Also, investing money directly within your community will strengthen the community. This could pay you back in the future by improving retention of employees in the area and expanding your customer base.

Panera is definitely strengthening their image throughout the U.S. with their individual method of corporate philanthropy. They’re creating a philanthropic culture for their workers to espouse and for customers to feel good about partaking in. Companies across the nation should likewise be intentional about the culture they create through their philanthropic ventures. Every company can offer something unique in the way of giving based on their product, service, business model, geographic location—this list could go on and on. Panera’s model is just one of many, but a good reminder not to neglect the unique form of giving your company could bring to your community.

How does your corporate responsibility stack up to Panera’s donation-based menus? Leave us a comment below.

IMAGE: Courtesy of Flickr by TerryJohnston