ST. LOUIS — A strong fourth quarter led by solid sales growth and a higher profit margin drove a 28% increase in full-year net income at Panera Bread Co.

Net income in the year ended Dec. 29, 2009, totaled $86,050,000, equal to $2.81 per share on the common stock, up from $67,436,000, or $2.24 per share, in fiscal 2008. Net sales during fiscal 2009 totaled $1,353,494,000, up 4% from $1,298,853,000.

For the fourth quarter ended Dec. 29, Panera posted net income of $29,696,000, or 96c per share, up 16% from $25,549,000, or 84c per share, in the same period a year ago. Net sales rose 3% to $366,972,000.
The strong end to the year prompted Panera to raise its 2010 full-year earnings-per-share guidance to $3.26 to $3.34, up from earlier guidance of $3.05 to $3.15. Analysts currently expect the company’s 2010 full-year profit to be about $3.38 per share.

The company set its initial target for first-quarter fiscal 2010 earnings per share at 74c to 76c, which, if achieved, would represent a 30% to 33% increase compared with the first quarter of fiscal 2009. The company also said it expects first-quarter company-owned comparable bakery-cafe sales growth of 8% to 9%.

Panera said it expects to open 5 to 10 new units in the first quarter of fiscal 2010.