Can Panera Bread Stock Keep Rising?

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Panera Bread (PNRA) is in the midst of a turnaround. The company's transformation, dubbed "Panera 2.0," is changing the way Panera does business.

In the past, customers were frustrated by long waits and inaccurate food orders. Management responded by simplifying menus, installing new kiosks to make ordering faster, launching a mobile app and changing the kitchen layout to improve efficiency in the back of the house. In addition, the company is aggressively refranchising 50 to 150 underperforming bakery-cafes. So far, 73 cafes have been refranchised to better cafe operators.

Although first-quarter results came in slightly lower than expected, investors saw enough positive changes to take the stock higher. Sales at company-owned cafes increased 1.5%, while franchise-operated cafes posted a slight decrease of 0.1%. While same-store sales were not great, they weren't the disaster some investors had been expecting.

Despite sluggish same-store sales, revenue jumped 7.1% to $648.5 million. Cafes operating under the Panera 2.0 model saw mobile, online and kiosk ordering rise to 20% of sales. Overall, 9% of customers order electronically, which is helping to alleviate the cashier bottleneck that has impacted sales in the past. Management believes electronic orders will continue to grow.

In the first quarter, operating margins declined 180 basis points. The decline was attributed to higher wage expenses. Under the Panera 2.0 transformation, the company added additional workers to the cafes during peak times. Increased expenses should weigh on the company until sales pick up.

During the fiscal first quarter of 2015, Panera opened 11 new bakery-cafes and its franchisees opened 14 new bakery-cafes. The company plans to open 105 to 115 new bakery-cafes in fiscal 2015 and expects to convert approximately 300 cafes to Panera 2.0 during the year. There were 1,901 bakery-cafes open system-wide as of March 31, 2015.

Panera's Board of Directors approved an increase to the company's current share repurchase program to $750 million. Panera expects to purchase $500 million worth of shares within the next 12 months.

Back in April, management told investors that same-store sales in the first 27 days of the second quarter were up 2.0%, which would indicate that business is getting better and the Panera 2.0 rollout is having the desired effect.

I think this stock can get over $200 per share by the end of the year as the new initiatives take hold.

This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held no position in the stocks mentioned.

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