Panera cites bad weather for slight comp gains

RICHMOND HEIGHTS Mo. Panera Bread Co. reported slight same-store sales gains for the last month and final quarter of fiscal 2007, blaming severe winter weather in its core markets in the Midwest for the results that came in between 1 percent and 1.2 percent lower than anticipated.

For the four weeks ended Dec. 25, systemwide same-store sales increased 1.2 percent, and for the quarter, also ended Dec. 25, systemwide same-store sales increased 1.7 percent. For the full year, systemwide same-store sales rose 1.6 percent from the year earlier.

Panera, which owns or franchises 1,167 bakery-cafes under the Panera Bread and Saint Louis Bread Co. names, reported that corporate locations recorded better same-store sales results than franchised units for all periods. Analyst Steven Rees at JP Morgan Securities Inc. said that excluding the effects of winter weather, “positive underlying traffic of close to 1 percent at corporate stores is commendable in the current environment.” He noted that Panera should be able to take further menu price increases in the current year, especially to offset rising wheat prices.

Revenue for the fourth quarter increased 29 percent from the same quarter a year earlier, to $301 million. During the quarter 39 corporate and 25 franchised bakery-cafes opened, and two franchised units were closed, the company said. Full results for the quarter are expected on Feb. 12.

Panera also said it would no longer issue monthly same-store sales releases starting in the current fiscal year, in keeping with increasingly common industry practices. In addition to its namesake chain and Saint Louis Bread Co. brand, Panera holds a 51-percent stake in Paradise Bakery & CafŽ, the Scottsdale, Ariz.-based owner and franchisor of 63 bakery-cafes.