Panera shares soar on talk of potential sale

by Eric Schroeder
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Panera’s revenues have increased to nearly $2.8 billion in 2016 from $2.39 billion in 2013.

ST. LOUIS — Shares of Panera Bread Co. climbed 11.7% on April 3 to as high as $292.42 before closing at an all-time high of $282.63 on speculation that the St. Louis-based bakery-cafe chain is exploring the possibility of a sale. The closing price of $282.63 was up 7.9% from what previously was the all-time high set on March 31.

Michael Bufano, Panera
Michael Bufano, c.f.o. of Panera

Michael Bufano, chief financial officer of Panera, said that as a matter of policy Panera does not comment on rumors or speculation. But Bloomberg News, citing people with knowledge of the matter, pointed to JAB Holdings, Starbucks and Domino’s Pizza as potential suitors. The suitors told Bloomberg that there is no certainty that a transaction will be reached.

While Panera’s revenues have increased to nearly $2.8 billion in 2016 from $2.39 billion in 2013, income has declined in each of the past four years, falling to $145.6 million in 2016 from $196.2 million in 2013.

The restaurant industry has been ripe for mergers and acquisitions. Restaurant Brands International, Inc., parent company of Burger King and Tim Hortons, recently completed its acquisition of Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen for $1.8 billion. Last week, Darden Restaurants, Inc., which owns Olive Garden and LongHorn Steakhouse, agreed to acquire Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen for $780 million.

Also last week, Panera said it will introduce a line of non-carbonated craft beverages made with no artificial sweeteners, preservatives, flavors or colors from artificial sources. As part of the launch, Panera said it will post the beverages’ calorie and added sugar content at the fountain, making it the first national restaurant chain to take such an action.

Ron Shaich, chief executive officer of Panera, is urging others in the beverage and restaurant industries to join Panera in its effort to provide increased transparency to customers.

Panera has taken a leadership role in communicating nutrition information to consumers over the past several years. In 2010, the restaurant chain began voluntarily posting calories on its menu boards, and posting added sugar in beverages is the next step in the company’s progressive effort to improve transparency.
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