Panera’s outgoing CEO will stay on at the corporation’s parent company. / Associated Press Panera’s outgoing CEO will stay on at the corporation’s parent company. / Associated Press

Panera Names Former Yum Brands Executive as New CEO

Panera is shaking up its c-suite. The JAB Holding-owned chain announced today that current president and CEO Blaine Hurst will be stepping down from his role effective May 23. His replacement has been plucked from the leadership team at another restaurant brand in JAB Holding’s portfolio: Krispy Kreme’s chief operating officer Niren Chaudhary.

Chaudhary has served in Krispy Kreme’s executive suite since 2017. Previously, he was the global president of fried chicken chain KFC and led parent company Yum Brands’ India operations for 20 years prior to the KFC appointment.

“I am thrilled to welcome Niren as the new CEO of Panera Bread,” outgoing CEO Hurst said in a statement. “While it has been a difficult decision for me to retire, I am confident that Panera will be well-positioned for continued long-term success with Niren taking on the role of CEO.”

Hurst isn’t going far, however. The executive will stay on the board at Panera as vice chairman and will help to guide JAB Holding’s digital development at all of its restaurant brands, including Krispy Kreme and Pret a Manger.

A Lasting Impression

In Hurst’s eight years at Panera, he has been credited with leading the chain’s charge in navigating operations within the industry’s quickly evolving digital landscape.

“Blaine played a significant role in making Panera a leader in the industry, including his tireless efforts to lead Panera through its omnichannel journey including Panera 2.0, digital, delivery, catering, brand evolution, and his commitment to diversity and inclusion,” Oliver Goudet, JAB Holding’s CEO, said in a statement. “To that effect, we are excited that Blaine has agreed to join JAB to help accelerate the technology transformation of our other food portfolio brands such as Pret a Manger.”

Hurst told CNBC late last year that the privately held chain was projected to hit $2 billion in digital sales in 2018, accounting for about 33 percent of total sales at Panera.

The statistics are industry-leading. Chipotle, another fast casual chain that has been early to adopt a digital-forward strategy, reported $206 million in digital sales in the first quarter of 2019. The figure makes up 15.7 percent of the chain’s total sales in the same period, although CEO Brian Niccol noted that the company has seen digital sales go as high as 30 percent of total revenue in stores that are fully optimized for digital order channels.

Hurst also served as a member of Google’s inaugural Restaurant Advisory Council from 2016 to 2017.

“I am as excited about Panera’s future today as I was when I started working with the company nearly nine years ago,” Hurst said in a statement. “I look forward to this next chapter as Panera’s vice chairman and helping JAB, our majority investor, with technology initiatives and other potential projects.”

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