Panera ups 2012 outlook after 2011 earnings growth

by Jeff Gelski
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ST. LOUIS — Panera Bread Co. posted earnings and revenue growth for fiscal year 2011. The company in turn increased its fiscal year 2012 outlook for earnings, new unit openings and advertising spending.
Panera had net income of $135,952,000, equal to $4.59 per share on the common stock, for the year ended Dec. 27, 2011, which was up from $111,866,000, or $3.65 per share, in the previous fiscal year.

Total fiscal-year revenues of $1,822,032,000 were up from $1,542,489,000.

The company and its franchises opened 112 new bakery-cafes in fiscal year 2011. As a result, there were 1,541 bakery-cafes system-wide on Dec. 27, 2011.

In the fourth quarter, Panera had net income of $38,620,000, or $1.33 per share, which was up from net income of $36,520,000, or $1.22 per share, in the previous year’s fourth quarter. Fourth-quarter total net revenues of $495,765,000 were up from $428,161,000.

The net income increases came despite a $5 million charge for the proposed settlement on Nov. 17, 2011, of a California employment legal matter, alleging, among other things, violations of the California Labor Code related to breaks and meal periods. Panera denied liability and wrongdoing of any kind with respect to any claims of the plaintiffs and made no admission of any wrongdoing in connection with the proposed settlement.

“This suit is similar to other suits that other restaurant companies are facing in the same state,” said Bill Moreton, president and chief executive officer of St. Louis-based Panera, in a Feb. 8 earnings conference call.

While giving fiscal year 2011 results on Feb. 8, Panera raised its target range for fiscal year 2012 earnings per diluted share to $5.50 to $5.55 from a prior target of $5.38 to $5.48. The company raised its target for company-owned, comparable bakery-cafe sales growth for fiscal 2012 to 4.5% to 5.5% from a prior target of 4% to 5%. Panera now expects to have 115 to 120 system-wide openings in 2012, which is up from a previous target of 110 to 115 units.

The company, which had 119 drive-through units at the end of fiscal 2011, expects about 50 of the new units in 2012 to be drive-through units.

“We look at it as a way to increase frequency a little bit or get that customer visit when they have a need for convenience or drive-through,” Mr. Moreton said. “You know, when a soccer mom has the kids in the back of the car or for whatever reason that you need to have that kind of experience.”

Panera Bread in 2012 will increase its advertising spending by 26% over 2011 as advertising spending will move to 1.5% of sales from 1.3%, Mr. Moreton said. Panera will run its first national cable advertising at the end of the first quarter.

For menu innovation in 2012, Panera rolled out a Mediterranean egg white breakfast sandwich in the first quarter. Later in the year the company will roll out a roasted turkey cranberry Panini that tested well in the Chicago market.

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