Panera CEO Lives off $4.50 a Day As Part of SNAP Challenge

By Ashley Jefferson,
Money and Investing Writer

Ron Shaich, CEO of Panera Bread (NASDAQ: PNRA), has taken on the challenge to live off of $4.50 a day for a month. Imagine if the next meal someone ate was their last meal – for a while.

Some people probably cannot imagine eliminating their daily snacking habits, let alone not have any certainty of where  one’s next meal is going to come from.

Unfortunately, as of 2012, nearly 18 million households were considered “food insecure” according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Even though this number is alarming high, the United States House of Representatives met earlier last week to consider a plan that would cut the funding of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), better known as Food Stamps, by $40 billion in the next ten years.

Over the last couple of years, many Chief Executive Officers, Politicians, and Athletes have decided to undergo the SNAP challenge. The latest person to take on this challenge is the Chief Executive Officer of Panera, Ron Shaich.

By taking part of the SNAP Challenge, Shaich has agreed to live for a month on the average daily benefit provided by the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

Ron Shaich confronts this challenge during Hunger Action Month. According to, this is when the Feeding America nationwide network of food banks unites to urge individuals to take action in their communities to help end hunger in America.

Similarly, this week, the House of Representatives is discussing a proposal that could cut SNAP’s funding by $40 billion over the next 10 years. A budget cut as large as this one could severely effect SNAP.

“Despite everything I have learned about hunger and the various efforts I’ve undertaken to try to make a dent in the problem, I have never actually experienced hunger firsthand, Shaich said. “I’m not talking about the hunger that comes after skipping a meal. I’m talking about not knowing when or where my next meal will come from on a regular basis.”

On this challenge, grocery shopping has become extremely difficult. On a typical shopping week, he only spent $31.50. As he records this experience through his Linked-in page, he notes that even though he may have wanted to gravitate towards the healthy food options, it became absolutely impossible to do so because of cost. Instead, he was forced to buy more carb heavy foods to last through the week.

As he reflects on his daily experience, at one point Shaich wrote, “When is my next meal? How much food is left in my cabinet? Will it get me through the week? What should I spend my remaining few dollars on? What would I eat if I had no budget at all?”

Eating few meals or no meals at all affects more than just one’s stomach; it also affects one’s mood and ability to concentrate.

As blogger Bob Aiken for the Huffington Post writes, “I’ve also found it difficult to concentrate at work. I’m tired, hungry, and have a caffeine headache – not to mention I’ve caught myself dreaming of coffee and all my favorite kinds of foods.”

The goal of Ron Shaich or any other person who completed or is looking to complete the challenge is to raise awareness about hunger and food instability in America as well as to see firsthand what it is like to live on food stamps.

Opponents to this challenge say that SNAP is not meant to be lived off of, but simply supplement any income a family or individual currently has going towards groceries.

While this could possibly be the case, so many American’s depend on food stamps as a means to eat and it is important to understand and even change their experience.

A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, Sept. 24 print edition.

Contact Ashley at

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