non-profit

May 24

Panera and the Responsibility Revolution

Melanie Ofenloch

This month, Panera launched a social experiment of sorts when it converted a former Panera-owned restaurant in an urban area of St. Louis into a non-profit restaurant named Saint Louis Bread Company Cares Café.  A sign at the front door encourages customers to “take what you need, leave your fair share” and customers who cannot pay are asked to donate their time. It didn’t surprise me that CEO Ron Shaich, Panera’s former CEO, said that sales were up 20 percent on opening day.

While this concept may be new in the restaurant industry, consumer sentiment is driving companies to give back to others or work to solve social problems.  In a September 2009 issue, Time magazine referred to this consumer sentiment as “the responsibility revolution.” In fact, the 2010 Corporate Social Responsibility Perceptions Survey from Penn Schoen Berland reports that out of a thousand customers,  70 percent thought CSR was important despite the recession and would pay as much or more for socially responsible goods.  That equates to good business for businesses to embed philanthropy into their business strategy.

On top of this, you have very highly successful technology entrepreneurs like Michael Dell from the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation or Bill Gates from the Gates Foundation that are taking on huge social problems like poverty, disease, education and obesity.  They are thinking seriously about how to solve the world’s biggest problems, putting the dollars into action and adding in cutting-edge business techniques to monitor and measure their progress.

As the mom to an almost five-year-old daughter, I have also experienced this shift in thinking.  From the energy company (Green Mountain) to the organic fruits/vegetables to the energy efficient light bulbs that we use, I also choose to spend on companies that mirror my personal beliefs.   With experiments like Panera’s and the work my clients are doing to tackle big problems with new solutions, I feel heartened this revolution has reached a tipping point.