October 22, 2013 / 8:36 PM / 6 years ago

Panera Bread sales at its own stores disappoint; stock falls

(Reuters) - Panera Bread Co PNRA.O on Tuesday posted a smaller-than-expected gain in quarterly sales at established company-owned bakery cafes as customer visits declined, sending its shares down 3.6 percent in extended trade.

Sales at company-owned bakery cafes open at least 18 months rose 1.7 percent, compared with the 2.7 percent increase analysts had expected, according to Consensus Metrix.

Panera said it had 1 percent fewer transactions during the third quarter, though diners’ average check rose 2.7 percent.

The fast-growing chain has until recently been an investor favorite because of its ability to keep increasing restaurant sales despite the halting U.S. economic recovery.

While Panera’s new restaurants are generating sales volumes that are the highest in company history, Chief Executive Ron Shaich said the chain is experiencing “operational friction” that is limiting its ability to squeeze out higher sales.

“We are taking a number of deliberate steps to improve our operational capabilities and our competitive position,” Shaich said in a statement.

The company’s conference call with analysts is scheduled for Wednesday morning.

Panera’s net income grew to $42.8 million, or $1.48 per share, in its fiscal third quarter that ended September 24, from $36.5 million, or $1.24 per share, a year earlier.

Excluding tax-related adjustments, Panera earned $1.35 per share in the latest quarter, in line with the average of analyst estimates compiled by Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Total revenue rose 8 percent to $572.5 million from $529.3 million a year earlier.

The company lowered its forecast for fourth-quarter earnings to a range of $1.91 to $1.97 per share, versus $2.05 to $2.11 per share previously.

Shares in Panera were down $5.84 to $156.60 in after-hours trade.

Reporting by Lisa Baertlein in Los Angeles; Editing by Tim Dobbyn and Leslie Adler

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