A write-up that I recently read about Panera Bread’s expansion plans gave me hope within this troubling economy (see: “Panera Looks to New Venues in Expansion,” Reuters, 3/19/09). A national bakery chain with a well-developed brand name, high quality ingredients, convenient and competitive food offerings, and lots of room for growth, Panera Bread Hours has evolved an equation that will help guarantee solid returns for many years. Panera currently has 1,250 locations with plans to open an extra 80-90 locations this year, a growth of about 7% of its current locations. In California, Panera has just 80 locations, so you will find considerable opportunities within that state alone. Since becoming wholly independent from Au Bon Pain Co. in 1999, Panera’s stock has grown thirteen fold, and in 2006, was recognized as the top performer in the restaurant category for one-, five- and ten-year returns to shareholders, so it’s success is nothing sudden – it has been growing slowly and steadily.
Personally, I adore Panera. The bread is freshly baked, the menu offerings are well-considered, the climate is inviting and warm, as well as the price is reasonable…and, I personally can’t consider a fast casual cafe chain which comes even close to winning vs. Panera on any of those dimensions. Au Bon Pain was created on the same premise that brought Panera success – hospitality, quality, fresh baked goods – but it is, in my view, a pale comparison. Take for example, hospitality – in What Time Does Panera Bread Close, you are given a beeper while awaiting your food, so there is not any confusion when your food is prepared and even, someone behind the counter will fall out of their approach to bring your food for your table. The food is served on actual plates with real silverware and the seating includes comfortable booths and cozy armchairs. In Au Bon Pain, the silverware is plastic, the chairs are stiff and you must bring the food to your table yourself and also the order process involves a less personal approach of completing a form and handing the shape for the order taker. With regards to quality and freshness, Panera also wins hands-down. The bread is served right out from the oven plus they sell their baguettes to consider home, something which Au Bon Pain either fails to do or fails to effectively communicate it does.
All of us know how a hot sandwich can draw out the ingredients’ flavors – Panera knows this and offers paninis – a style of grilling sandwiches that has been quite popular. At Au Bon Pain, instead of paninis, it gives you ‘hot sandwiches’, which can be sandwiches which can be continuously kept warm within a heat lamp. If you’ve had food which is kept warm this way, you’ll know it just doesn’t taste excellent or very fresh. To get a place that promotes the standard and freshness of its breads, Au Bon Pain simply qxuhyp not do pretty much as good a job executing. Finally, in terms of I can tell, Panera also wins on value. At Panera Bread Corporate Office, your order of the sandwich automatically features a bag of chips along with a pickle thrown in and they also smartly provide a half-sandwich and soup or salad combination, attractive to health-conscious customers. At Au Bon Pain, nearly every ingredient is line-itemed and you certainly don’t obtain the pickle…leading to your tab that is certainly more often than not$1-$2 more. So, what went wrong with Au Bon Pain? In 1999, it went public and then got shuffled around to several private equity groups. It certainly hasn’t changed much over the years and hasn’t attempted to improve its offerings in accordance with Panera’s.
Perhaps, owing to its success over the years and a lack of a significant competitor, it hasn’t needed to. But, let’s get real – in a health-conscious, quality, value driven economy like one that we live in – where would you rather choose lunch?