An article that I recently read about Panera Bread’s expansion plans gave me hope in 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 plenty of room for growth, Panera Bread Hours Of Operation has evolved a formula which should help guarantee solid returns for many years. Panera currently has 1,250 locations with wants to open yet another 80-90 locations this season, a rise 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 accepted 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 love Panera. The bread is freshly baked, the menu offerings are well-designed, the climate is inviting and warm, and the prices are reasonable…and, Personally, i can’t consider a fast casual cafe chain which comes even close to winning vs. Panera on any one of those dimensions. Au Bon Pain was developed on the same premise that brought Panera success – hospitality, quality, fresh baked goods – but it is, in my opinion, a pale comparison. Take for instance, hospitality – in What Time Does Panera Bread Start Serving Breakfast, you happen to be given a beeper while waiting around for your food, so there is absolutely no confusion when your food is prepared and in some cases, someone behind the counter will fall out of their way to bring your food to your table. The food is served on actual plates with real silverware and also the seating includes comfortable booths and comfy armchairs. In Au Bon Pain, the silverware is plastic, the chairs are stiff and also you must bring the food for your table yourself and the order process involves a less personal approach of filling out a form and handing the shape to the order taker. In terms of quality and freshness, Panera also wins hands-down. The bread is served right out of the oven and they also sell their baguettes to take home, something which Au Bon Pain either fails to do or fails to effectively communicate that it does.
We all know the way a hot sandwich can draw out the ingredients’ flavors – Panera understands this and gives paninis – a design of grilling sandwiches that has become extremely popular. At Au Bon Pain, instead of paninis, it offers ‘hot sandwiches’, which are sandwiches which can be continuously kept warm within heat lamp. If you’ve ever had food that is certainly kept warm like that, you’ll know that it just doesn’t taste excellent or very fresh. For any place that promotes the standard and freshness of the breads, Au Bon Pain simply qxuhyp not do as good work executing. Finally, as far as I can tell, Panera also wins on value. At Panera Bread Printing, your order of the sandwich automatically includes a bag of chips and a pickle thrown in and they also smartly offer a half-sandwich and soup or salad combination, appealing to health-conscious customers. At Au Bon Pain, virtually every ingredient is line-itemed and you also certainly don’t obtain the pickle…leading to some 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 time and hasn’t attempted to improve its offerings relative to Panera’s.
Perhaps, owing to its success over the years and a lack of a significant competitor, it hasn’t had to. But, let’s get real – in a health-conscious, quality, value driven economy like one that we live in – where can you rather go for lunch?