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10 Major Changes Panera Made in 2023

From new sandwiches to tinkering with AI and a new store format—the sandwich chain has been hard at work.

Panera has a loyal customer base, and 2023 gave those dedicated customers a lot of exciting developments. From new sandwiches to new mobile ordering options and value deals, it was a pretty great year for Panera lovers.

Looking back, the chain underwent plenty of changes this year, and some of them were more popular than others. Whether you stopped in for a healthier-than-usual lunch, a mid-day caffeinated beverage and a cookie, or just to indulge in one of Panera's famous bread bowls, here are the switches we saw this past year.

Streamlined operations

Panera interior
Panera Bread / Facebook

Although there weren't as many widespread cuts to the menu as fans feared (whew!), some Panera locations streamlined their menus to make things simpler for associates and to improve the overall guest experience. Thankfully, fan favorites are still available at most locations.

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Expanded Value Duets

Panera Value Duet
Panera Bread

When it comes to Panera, two items are better than one! The company added more offerings to its Value Duets, which are set pairings that are priced between $6.99 and $8.99 when ordered from the Value Duet menu. The Value Duet pairings combine a half-portion sandwich or salad along with a cup of soup. This year we saw the deli ham sandwich and homestyle chicken noodle soup as a stellar combo. Another top-notch pairing is the Napa almond chicken sandwich with chicken and wild rice soup. Fans appreciated the classic grilled cheese and creamy tomato soup combo.

Crunch Time

Panera Crunch Time
Panera Bread

True fans of Panera know it's smart to use the app for ordering. This year the company introduced Crunch Time, which enables users to preset favorite meals and preprogram them to be ordered at a specific date and time. If you love ordering your favorites quickly and easily, then this update is a game-changer.

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Ham is back!

Panera Black Forest Ham & Gouda Melt
Panera Bread

Fans had been lamenting the absence of ham from the menu, but all that changed with the introduction of a brand-new Black Forest ham and Gouda melt as part of its popular Toasted Baguette sandwich line. The chain also added a new deli ham sandwich. Ham FTW!

A new line of toasted sandwiches

Paneras Smoky Buffalo Chicken Melt (Toasted Baguette)
Panera Bread

This fall, Panera knew we wanted something hot and gave us a brand-new line of Stacked Toasted Baguette sandwiches loaded with meat, cheese, toppings, and sauces. The new lineup is made up of three sammies—a chicken and pepperoni mozzarella melt, a chicken green goddess caprese melt, and a chicken cordon bleu melt.

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The Roman Empire Menu

Broccoli Cheddar Soup in a Bread Bowl panera
Panera Bread

Panera had fun with its Roman Empire Menu. Jumping on the TikTok trend fed by men admitting they think a lot about the Roman Empire, Panera introduced a menu of eight foods that customers can't stop thinking about, either. The iconic fan favorites included broccoli cheddar soup, as well as the Cinnamon Crunch bagel, toasted Frontega chicken sandwich, and two types of Caesar salad.

Expansion into more cities

panera entry
Panera Bread

Panera is a favorite in the 'burbs, but that doesn't mean city folk want to go without their soups and salads. The chain expanded into more cities with smaller storefronts with a test run in NYC. It also experimented with elevated urban design to go along with the leaner locations.

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A spicy new salad

panera southwest caesar salad
Courtesy of Panera

The southwest Caesar salad with chicken popped up on April 5 this year and brought some spice to fans of the most popular salad on the menu, the Caesar. Fans loved the addition of avocado, crumbled blue corn tortilla strips, chipotle aioli, and cilantro to the mix.

AI drive-thru tests

Panera Bread exterior
Jonathan Weiss / Shutterstock

Joining several fast-food restaurants, Panera experimented with exciting technologies by trying out AI-powered drive-thrus and even Amazon's palm-scanning technology (in case you forget your wallet but still need that cookie!).

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Pushed out its biggest rival

Corner Bakery

Corner Bakery, once a formidable rival to Panera, saw a big drop in sales and declared bankruptcy this past year. While its competitors have underperformed, Panera continues to see success with its innovative menu items, great prices, and friendly service.

Ronnie Koenig
Ronnie Koenig has written about food, drink, travel and culture for The New York Times, TODAY, The Atlantic and many others. Read more about Ronnie