Panera Bread’s new ‘hidden menu’ concept may not take off

Panera Bread Co. has rolled out a new “hidden menu” featuring protein-rich power foods. While this kind of marketing may make big fans of the chain feel special, it also increases the likelihood that the hidden items fail to take off, says a marketing expert at Washington University in St. Louis.

“Some of my research shows that having too many choices makes a decision more difficult, and can lead to less satisfaction,” says Joseph K. Goodman, PhD, assistant professor of marketing at Olin Business School.”

“By keeping some of the items off the menu, Panera keeps them from adding to an already complex menu for novice consumers, who are more likely to exhibit this ‘choice overload’ effect,” he says.

People who go to the chain often will appreciate knowing something that others might not be tuned in to, which increases a connection with the brand and creates buzz and free word-of-mouth marketing, Goodman says.

And while the strategy may be low-risk, it may not be successful.

“If the ‘hidden menu’ items don’t take off or are unprofitable, they can easily be discontinued without the added costs of printing new menus,” Goodman says.

“The problem is that this strategy also makes these items more likely to fail,” he says. “Since these items are not on the advertised menu, people may be more likely to forget about them and be less likely to order them than if they were posted on the menu.”