With a contrarian approach to foodservice, Boston-basedPanera Bread Co. has succeeded in growing financially and physically -- even during a recession when its competition is struggling saysUSA Today.

The newspaper interviewed founder and CEO Ron Shaich in mid-July, just before Panera released second quarter earnings. The article also included a few insights to Panera's new product program.

USA Today noted that Panera's emphasis on better-for-you ingredients has proven popular, even though some offerings -- such as antibiotic-free chicken -- were more expensive and the perceived consumer value was harder to communicate.

"People like buying chicken that tastes like chicken," said Shaich.

For the record, some of the chain's latest new offerings are a Chopped Cobb Salad and Frozen Mocha. Meanwhile, Shaich said Panera is testing several new things, such as a chicken salad with sliced grapes and almonds, a low-cal Power Breakfast sandwich and Power Smoothie, mac-and-cheese and oatmeal. On the board for 2010: salmon used in a sandwich and/or a salad.

Shaich also spoke about new product failures, including a pizza-like entree called "Crispani," which was designed to drive greater dinner traffic. The product flopped, however. As a result, Shaich said he learned that Panera must think harder and test longer.

True to form, however, he still insists on new product activity and innovation.

"This is the time to increase the food experience," he said -- that is, when consumers least expect it.