Over the past few months I’ve been following the social accounts of Panera and Chipotle and have witnessed something that goes beyond two chain restaurants who simply happen to be using social media very well. I’ve also seen them do a great job of articulating who they are and what they stand for. Watching what these two “fast casual” restaurants are doing has been inspiring, as I’m seeing how even fairly large chains can build healthy corporate cultures while growing their businesses and responding positively to the culture around them.
In an consumer culture that is increasingly suspicious of chains and big box stores, these two restaurants are making and promoting change in a way that might be considered corporate suicide. They are becoming more responsible in how they create and serve their products, while at the same time looking to make change in the individual communities in which they operate, as well as on a larger scale.
I first became aware of what Panera was doing when I started seeing more of their promoted links in my Facebook feed. When I clicked, I was pleasantly surprised. They had spent a lot of time and money to tell their story in an incredibly compelling way across a variety of platforms. What exactly was that story? The fact that they were making strides to be more responsive to their customers, and our culture, by making a commitment to serving antibiotic-free (read: healthier) meat. Panera does an incredible job of telling this story on a visually beautiful, interactive website: The Hard Road Leads to Good Stuff.
The website is full of videos, activities, and socially share-able facts. I encourage you to spend some time there, playing around with all the different elements. Fair warning: you might get lost in there, but in a good way. It’s fun and very informative. The “hard road” part of the story is that Panera admits that it isn’t easy to make all these changes, and that it’s a process in which they’re still very much involved. As Christopher Versace notes in an article in Forbes, Panera (along with Chipotle) has been experiencing great growth. Much of this is due to the vision of Panera co-founder, Chairman, and CEO, Ron Shaich:
Focusing on the customer experience, transparency and, as Ron says, simply “doing it right” are some of the strategies that led to that significant growth.
“Because we believe that everyone deserves a dignified dining experience in an uplifting environment regardless of their means. It’s as simple as that. This is our way of sharing in the responsibility and making a difference in the world we all share”
The beauty of this is that the mission of Panera and its internal culture are driven from the top down. CEO Shaich has been learning more about hunger in America by taking the SNAP Challenge, trying to eat on just $4.50 per day, and is blogging about the experience on LinkedIn, which I find interesting because that is the platform where his wealthy executive peers are most likely to connect with him and see what he has to say. In other words, he is using influence wisely, and in the right place.
A new video posted by the company, A Day in the Loaf, follows the life cycle of their baked goods, including those that don’t get sold. According to the video, Panera donates all the left over baked goods at the end of the day to local charities, to the tune of $100-million dollars last year.
While they have their detractors, Panera is doing a great job of moving forward, while managing expectations. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the great job they do across the social media landscape, particularly on the Panera Facebook page, but also on their Twitter , Pinterest, and YouTube pages.
While Panera’s campaign is presented under the banner of “Live Consciously, Eat Deliciously,” Chipotle Mexican Grill seems to be travelling down much the same road using the phrase “Food with Integrity.” The fast casual chain also uses antibiotic free meats and hormone free dairy products, while also trying to source organic and local produce when possible.
help fund initiatives that support sustainable agriculture, family farming, and culinary education.
In this case, Chipotle’s efforts were brought to my attention most recently by a new short film that was posted on Facebook, via YouTube. It has much the same feel as what Panera has done, and tells an important story in a short, yet compelling way. The film, The Scarecrow, is set to a beautiful rendition of the song “Pure Imagination” from the film, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, as sung by Fiona Apple:
Not even online two weeks, the video has more than 6-million views. Viewers are also given the chance to download the song, with most of the proceeds going to support the work of the foundation. There is also an accompanying Scarecrow video game which can be downloaded for free on your iPhone or iPod.
But as I watched, I realized I was first exposed to Chipotle’s efforts two years ago when the video, Back to the Start, aired on television, and also appeared online, featuring Willie Nelson’s rendition of the Coldplay song, The Scientist.
While I generally try to support local, independent restaurants that focus on healthy, organic, and local food, I applaud both Panera and Chipotle for their efforts, and hope that what they are doing causes some rather large ripples in the stream. I would love to see more chains, especially the larger ones, go this route, and be more intentional about the food they serve, and the impact they are having on local communities. Sure, there will be naysayers, and the critics have already stepped up, decrying the truth of these efforts, or saying that the companies aren’t doing enough. Heck, there was even a Funny or Die parody of the Scarecrow.
But, both of these restaurant chains are exhibiting transparency while telling great and important stories, all the while doing the right thing. They’re not completely “there” yet, but they are close, and they are moving in the right direction, paving the way for others. I think they are functioning in ways that all businesses, small and large, should be functioning.
What other restaurants or businesses have impressed you with their storytelling, commitment to doing good, and strong, positive internal business cultures that impact their communities?
- The Great Retail Experience Race: Interview and Infographic (customersthatstick.com)
- Social media disaster: What I learned when EVERYTHING went wrong (businessesgrow.com)
- Dear Business: Get Over the Social Media Hump (waxingunlyrical.com)
- You Know Your Business Needs an Extreme Culture Makeover When… (inklingmedia.net)
- 7 Reasons to Tell Your Brand’s Story (inklingmedia.net)