Part of that growth will include the company’s first national cable-television advertising campaign, which will launch in the coming weeks, William M. Moreton, CEO of the company, told investors on the call. "We think we're at the size of scale where that makes economic sense for us now," he said.
The company also plans to expand its test of table delivery service, which is currently in 214 restaurants, Moreton said. "We continue to believe this is the right way to position our concept to deliver the type of customer experience that we're striving for," he said. "You'll see this evolve and unfold more and more, as we go through the course of the year into next. We do believe that is where we're moving toward, from a competitive positioning standpoint."
Moreton also told investors the company plans to launch a program to give individual incentives to all 9.5 million members of its loyalty program.
Panera Bread opened 112 new bakeries and cafes in 2011, an increase of 47 percent over 2010, Moreton said. "The company's new-unit average sales surpassed an all-time-high record for both company and franchised bakery cafes, with opening average weekly sales of $41,637 and $41,438, respectively. Clearly our concept is resonating with our customers," he said.
"One of the key focus areas in 2011 was the roll out of our new Panini program, highlighted by our new proprietary Panini grill, and the introduction of several new proteins using the sous-vide cooking method," Moreton said. "Our Panini sandwich sales have increased 16 percent since the roll out of the grills in the second quarter of 2011, and our hot-breakfast sandwich sales increased 15 percent in 2011."
Moreton said the company plans to roll out a Roasted Turkey Cranberry Panini, which tested well in the Chicago market, later in the year. The new Mediterranean Egg White on Ciabatta Sandwich also met company expectations, Moreton said.
Panera Bread's net bakery-café sales were up 5.9 percent in the fourth quarter, and the firm expects to close soon on a $48-million acquisition of a Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina, franchise by the end of the first quarter, said Jeffrey Kip, Panera Bread's CFO.
By Jan Fletcher