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."
"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 Matt.Brownell@teamaol.com, and follow him on Twitter at @Brownellorama.