Panera CEO Will Spend This Week Living on a Food Stamp Budget

Ron Shaich
Michael L Abramson/Getty Images

For the next week, Ron Shaich will live well below his means: The Panera Bread (PNRA) CEO embarked on a quest Saturday to spend a week living on food stamps.

"As part of Hunger Action Month, I decided to take the SNAP Challenge," Shaich announced on LinkedIn last week. "For one week, beginning Saturday, September 14, 2013, I will live on just $4.50 a day, the average daily benefit per person provided by the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP; formerly known as Food Stamps)."

A number of liberal politicians, including Newark Mayor Cory Booker have taken the SNAP Challenge, publicly documenting their quest to eat on less than $5 a day (the weekly allowance is $31.50). The challenge has become a popular way to see how the other half lives, call attention to hunger issues and protest budget cuts.

Panera has tackled issues of food insecurity in the past, most notably when it offered a "pay what you want" option at its St. Louis-area locations. At the time, Shaich said he hoped that the experiment would help customers who "say they only have three bucks in their pocket."
Now Shaich gets to share that experience of having only a few bucks in his pocket to spend on food. In a blog post Saturday, he described his adventures shopping on a tight budget at a Dorchester, Mass. grocery store.

"After just a few minutes walking the aisles of the store, the concern set in that I may not be able to sustain myself for the next seven days," he wrote. "Thirty one dollars and fifty cents, the weekly budget, didn't feel so insignificant until I actually started filling –- and editing –- what was ultimately a barren shopping cart."

Shaich wound up going with a carb-heavy shopping cart that included cereal, pasta, lentils and chickpeas, as well as an assortment of vegetables. He wound up spending $25.95, which only leaves him around $6 to spend on additional food for the rest of the week. We're guessing he won't be getting lunch at Panera this week.

The SNAP Challenge does tend to overdramatize things by focusing on that $31.50 figure: As the Washington Post notes, "SNAP is not intended to be the only source of income for food," and 75% of people on SNAP are spending some of their own money to buy food. So while Shaich's challenge lets him see how the poorest of the poor live, the average person on SNAP is probably going to be buying more food than Shaich is this week.

Still, it will be interesting to watch a CEO who makes $3 million a year attempt to live like one of the millions of people on government benefits -- some of whom probably work for Shaich at Panera. The CEO will be documenting his challenge this week on LinkedIn, and we know we'll be tuning in to see if he can make it.

Matt Brownell is the consumer and retail reporter for DailyFinance. You can reach him at, and follow him on Twitter at @Brownellorama.

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Living on a food stamp budget is tricky- in Salisbury , NC I saw a woman sell her FS at Walmart - so she could buy drugs- most of the people on FS work under the table,( unless they are unable to work., as being elderly or mentally ill- bedridden-) - and do not report that on a monthly basis- I worked for Welfare in Ventura, CA -so don't tell me any stories. we need yo get rid of the cheaters and give those that deserve them double -

September 19 2013 at 11:12 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Does Panera accept food stamps?

September 18 2013 at 8:44 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

This is nothing more than a publicity stunt. If he, or ANY CEO, for that matter, was concerned about how the "other half" lives, they would provide them with a living wage.

September 17 2013 at 6:57 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Alexis Elizabeth

A better challenge would be for a CEO to move out of his mansion, hand over his bankbook, give up his boardroom and his fancy car and clothes...everything that is his life. Now go get a job working at Walmart, or work in a water plant, down in the sewer or any number of low paying jobs. Next go find a boarding room or cheap dirty apartment. No cheating now, all he is allowed is what he makes on his job, gets from the snap program and must pay every single bill he gets from this lifestyle for exactly one year. That's the only true test to find out what most working poor folks go thru. Anything less is a joke. I dare any one of them to try it.

September 17 2013 at 3:20 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

"75% of people on SNAP are spending some of their own money to buy food." ........well no wonder it has to be supplemented, it is pretty tough to subsist off the meager SNAP benefits alone, especially if you want to eat a healthy diet. Unfortunately junk food is usually cheaper calories for those who can't supplement their benefits..

September 17 2013 at 3:18 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply


September 17 2013 at 1:28 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Wow it's a noble thought but how about sharing some of your 3 MILLION

1 week try at least 4 months

September 17 2013 at 1:14 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

ok now lets start a adope a ceo so he or she can still live there lives like they always did i feel sorry for them lol i hope they all choke on there own greed

September 17 2013 at 12:52 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Tom Harrell

Try living for a Year on Food Stamps,then you'll REALLY get an Idea of how the Other Half live. Then try living on Social Security or Unemployment and you'll propably Slit your Wrists.

September 17 2013 at 12:41 AM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply

It is really great to see those who do this experiment so they might have some of an understanding of what some go through, BUT.. it is easy to get through a week when you KNOW that at the end you can go back to your normal life. I think a better experiment would be for them to go a few months earning minimum wage and living off that, along with food stamps, to get a REAL feel for the struggle so many feel.

September 17 2013 at 12:32 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply