Panera, Subway and more selling groceries during coronavirus pandemic

Restaurant chains are shifting business models to adapt in the wake of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Chain restaurants like Subway, Panera Bread and more are now offering customers grocery staples like loaves of bread and produce.
Chain restaurants like Subway, Panera Bread and more are now offering customers grocery staples like loaves of bread and produce. Subway
/ Source: TODAY

While thousands of smaller eateries have been forced to temporarily shutter during the coronavirus pandemic, many of the country's biggest restaurant chains have been forced to make major changes, too.

The restaurant industry and its employees have been hit particularly hard by the health crisis. Many business owners are struggling to make ends meet and those that do remain open, from local haunts to brands with hundreds of locations, have been urging customers to order more takeout.

While to-go meals have helped some businesses stay afloat, many industry experts say that model is not sustainable. Now, restaurants are finding more ways to sell food.

Bigger chains are joining the rising number of smaller restaurants that have shifted to a takeout-only model or turned their stores into boutique markets.

On April 8, Panera Bread launched a new online service called Panera Grocery. Via the Panera app, the chain's website or on Grubhub, people can now order staple grocery items like milk and produce, along with their favorite soup or mac and cheese. The items are then brought to a customer's doorstep via contactless delivery, or the food can be picked up at a participating cafe.

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Moe's Southwest Grill began selling its burrito ingredients by the pound with Moe's Market; Shake Shack launched DIY burger kits online; California Pizza Kitchen started a market for meal kits and pantry items and Denny's recently announced it would be selling groceries in some of its diner parking lots.

Getting into the grocery game isn't just helping restaurant sales, it may also provide Americans with easier access to some staple items. Grocery stores have seen a surge in demand, leading to bare shelves in some markets. Simultaneously, many grocery chains have ordered stores to limit hours and regulate how many people may enter at once, causing long lines to form outside.

Even though grocery shopping is still OK for people who aren't sick or elderly, more options to get groceries can help share the load big markets have had to bear in recent weeks.

Here are some of the biggest restaurant chains currently getting into the grocery business. Before heading out, call your local store first to see what they're offering. Also, check out your favorite local restaurant's social media pages to see if they are running similar programs.

California Pizza Kitchen

On April 1, CPK began selling meal kits which allow pizza fans to make many of the chain's popular menu items at home. Some kits, available through the newly established CPK Market, include pantry items like fresh produce, meats and seafood, milk, beer and wine.

Moe's Southwest Grill

Whether you need beans, cheese or tortillas, Moe's has got you covered with its new Moe's Market division that allows customers to order many of the chain's staple ingredients for Mexican fare by the pound. Visit Moe's website to order online.

Panera

Panera Grocery is available nationwide at participating stores via the Panera app, website and Grubhub (its third-party delivery service). Customers can order a variety of freshly baked breads, dairy items like gallons of milk and kid-friendly yogurt tubes, as well as fresh produce, including apples, avocados, blueberries, grapes and tomatoes. Groceries can be picked up or delivered.

Subway

In addition to offering free delivery and family-sized takeout specials, the sandwich chain recently began selling groceries at 250 stores in five states, the Associated Press reported. Residents in California, Connecticut, Oregon, Tennessee and Washington may call their local Subway to see which pantry and deli items are available.