ST. LOUIS — Investments to improve the quality of customers’ experience paid off in the third quarter for Panera Bread Co. Net income in the quarter ended Sept. 28 totaled $22,797,000, equal to 75c per share on the common stock, up 21% from $18,894,000, or 61c per share, in the third quarter of fiscal 2009. Sales during the third quarter rose 11% to $371,994,000 from $335,018,000 in the same period a year ago.

Also during the third quarter, Panera said system-wide comparable bakery café sales increased 6.9%, while company-owned comparable bakery café sales rose 5.5%.

During the third quarter Panera opened 10 new bakery cafes and franchisees opened 12 new bakery cafes. Panera now operates 1,421 bakery cafes system wide.

“We are pleased to report the investments that we have made to improve the quality of our customers’ experience continue to pay off,” said Bill Moreton, chief executive officer. “Our 23% year-over-year earnings growth in the third quarter marks the ninth quarter out of the last 10 that we have generated earnings growth of 20% or greater.”

For the nine months ended Sept. 28 net income totaled $75,342,000, or $2.44 per share, up 34% from $56,356,000, or $1.84 per share, in the same period a year ago. Net sales rose 13% to $1,114,328,000 from $986,521,000.