ST. LOUIS — With a focus on driving margins while growing sales and strengthening return on invested capital, Panera Bread Co. posted strong earnings in fiscal 2008. Net income at Panera Bread in the year ended Dec. 30, 2008, totaled $67,436,000, equal to $2.24 per share on the common stock, up 17% from $57,456,000, or $1.81 per share, in fiscal 2007. Net sales were $1,298,853,000, up 22% from $1,066,691,000.

Results were equally impressive for the fourth quarter. Net income in the quarter ended Dec. 30 totaled $25,549,000, or 84c per share, up 43% from $17,834,000, or 56c per share, in the same period a year ago. Net sales totaled $357,812,000, up 19% from $300,843,000.

During the fourth quarter the company opened 32 new bakery-cafes systemwide, bringing the total number of bakery-cafes in operation to 1,325.

Looking ahead, Panera reaffirmed its earnings per share target for fiscal 2009 at $2.55 to $2.71 per share. If realized, it would represent an increase of 15% to 22% in year-over-year e.p.s., Panera said.

"Panera was the best performing restaurant stock in 2008," said Ron Shaich, chairman and chief executive officer. "It was also the best performing restaurant stock (over $250 million market capitalization) over the last decade (for the 10 years ended Dec. 31, 2008). Our focus on driving margins while growing sales and strengthening return on incremental invested capital, all while increasing long-term concept differentiation, has continued to deliver results.

"With Panera’s concept resonating strongly with guests and with a debt-free balance sheet, we believe Panera will come out of the recession with even greater competitive advantage."