Panera Bread’s Rosemary Focaccia Roll. (Photo: Courtesy Panera)
Panera Bread, the national-fast casual restaurant that centers around freshly baked goods, is now testing out a new product to lure in gluten-free customers.
The company has plans to test out a Rosemary Focaccia Roll in 15 stores in the Detroit area starting at the end of the month with plans to take the product nation-wide in the second half of 2016.
Gluten, a protein found in wheat and other grains including barley and rye, gives elasticity to dough, helping bread rise and keep its shape. Creating bread without it is notoriously tricky.
“I went kicking and screaming into the world of gluten-free bread as an artisan baker,” said Tom Gumpel, the head baker for Panera. “There is little to no good-tasting gluten-free bread in this country, and I’ve eaten about every slice there is.”
While only about 1 percent of the U.S. popular is said to have an allergy to gluten, the gluten-free diet trend has become very popular in recent years with gluten-free products, like this specialty flour, lining grocery-store shelves. More than half of specialty food manufacturers considering the products a high priority for innovation, according to the Specialty Food Association.
“There is clearly consumer interest and demand for gluten-free items, and their taste and quality has vastly improved,” said Louise Kramer, the communications director for the Specialty Food Association. “The question is whether this will have staying power as a long-term trend, versus a dietary fad.”
Panera may seem slow to embrace the trend, but finding a product they were happy with was difficult, Gumpel said.
“A lot of people might have beat us to the game but go taste the stuff that’s out there,” Gumpel said, adding that to recreate the elasticity gluten provides, other manufactures rely on artificial ingredients, gums, and chemicals.
Panera’s solution was to create a focaccia roll rather than a loaf of bread. The roll is made from white sorghum from Africa, and studded with sprouted broccoli, chia, and flax seeds for their nutritional benefit and to give the loaf texture.
Yahoo Food got a preview of the new item which is dense with a chewy texture. It’s made with olive oil and and then coated in it, which gives the bread a somewhat greasy feel. The flavor is improved when it’s toasted, becoming more nutty and rich. It would work best on a breakfast or hot sandwich.
The chain is calling the bread “gluten-conscious” because while it is made in gluten-free facility and with gluten-free ingredients, it will be stored and served alongside the store’s regular offerings, which could pose a problem for those with extreme sensitivities.
In the test region, it will cost $1.50 more as an option on a sandwich, 75 cents more as a side choice, and a $1 each if bought at retail.