An article that I recently read about Panera Bread’s expansion plans provided 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 lots of room for growth, What Time Does Panera Bread Start Serving Breakfast has created a formula which should help guarantee solid returns for years to come. Panera currently has 1,250 locations with plans to open an extra 80-90 locations this season, a growth of approximately 7% of its current locations. In California, Panera has just 80 locations, so there are 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-designed, the climate is inviting and warm, and also the prices are reasonable…and, Personally, i can’t imagine a fast casual cafe chain that comes even close to winning vs. Panera on some of those dimensions. Au Bon Pain was created on the same premise that brought Panera success – hospitality, quality, fresh baked goods – yet it is, in my view, a pale comparison. Take for instance, hospitality – in What Time Does Panera Bread Start Serving Breakfast, you might be given a beeper while awaiting your food, so there is not any confusion as soon as your food is ready and in some cases, someone behind the counter will fall out of their method to bring your food in your table. The food is served on actual plates with real silverware as well as the seating includes comfortable booths and comfy armchairs. In Au Bon Pain, the silverware is plastic, the chairs are stiff and you must bring the food to your table yourself as well as the order process involves a less personal approach of submitting a form and handing the form for the order taker. When it comes to 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 that Au Bon Pain either fails to do or fails to effectively communicate which it does.
We all know the way a hot sandwich can reveal the ingredients’ flavors – Panera knows this and provides paninis – a design of grilling sandwiches that is very popular. At Au Bon Pain, as opposed to paninis, it provides ‘hot sandwiches’, that are sandwiches that are continuously kept warm within heat lamp. If you’ve ever endured food that is certainly kept warm this way, you’ll know it just doesn’t taste very good or very fresh. For any place that promotes the quality and freshness of its breads, Au Bon Pain simply qxuhyp not do pretty much as good a job executing. Finally, so far as I can tell, Panera also wins on value. At Panera Bread Customer Service, your order of any sandwich automatically features a bag of chips along with a pickle thrown in and they smartly provide a half-sandwich and soup or salad combination, attractive to health-conscious customers. At Au Bon Pain, virtually every ingredient is line-itemed and also you certainly don’t get 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 after that got shuffled around to different private equity groups. It certainly hasn’t changed much through the years and hasn’t tried to improve its offerings in accordance with Panera’s.
Perhaps, owing to its success through the years and an absence of a serious competitor, it hasn’t had to. But, let’s get real – in a health-conscious, quality, value driven economy like the one which we live in – where could you rather choose lunch?