Panera introduces “take all you need, pay what you can”

It’s only on occasion that I write something specific on this blog about Mullen or our clients. But once in a while there’s something too good to pass up. This week’s move by Panera Bread to open a “community café,” that allows people to “take what they need and give all they can,” is a case in point.

I don’t need to tell you too much, as the story is pretty much everywhere. In a nutshell, Panera opened a new non-profit store in the St. Louis suburb of Clayton. It looks and feels like any Panera except the prices are different. There aren’t any. You pay what you feel is fair or whatever you can afford.

According to Ron Shaich, Panera’s Chairman (he just resigned his CEO position to head up this new initiative) this is something he’s wanted to try for a long time.

A skeptic could come up with any number of reasons to question a project like this. It doesn’t make good business sense. It could eat into business at the for-profit stores. It’s not a long-term growth strategy. An optimist, on the other hand, might argument that it’s brilliant. Showing that Panera cares about the community. Conveying it’s a brand with a social conscience. Endearing itself to the thousands of customers who won’t merely patronize the café but will turn into vocal advocates for the idea.

This week’s Fast Company declared that the most important leadership quality a CEO can possess is creativity. Not operations. Not finance. Not management. Creativity. Creativity means breaking with the status quo, trying things that have never been done, innovating on a regular basis. And in the case of Panera, and Ron Shaich, following your heart.

Here’s to hoping this little experiment works and inspires more brands to be equally inventive.