Panera Bread catering boxes, sandwiches and soup
Panera implements structural enhancements to improve its competitive position.

ST. LOUIS – Panera Bread Co. is making progress on a number of key value enhancing initiatives, including increasing its share repurchase authorization to $750 million, authorizing $500 million of new debt to repurchase shares, and signing letters of intent to sell and refranchise 73 company-owned cafes. The news spurred an increase of more than 11 percent in shares of Panera in after-hours trading on April 15.

Panera’s board of directors approved an increase to the company’s current share repurchase program to $750 million. The company said it expects to purchase $500 million of shares within the next 12 months, through a combination of cash on hand, cash flow from operations, and $500 million of new debt, taking advantage of the current interest rate environment. Since 2012, the company has repurchased approximately $511 million of Panera common stock, or 11 percent of the shares outstanding, including $154 million of shares that were repurchased during 2014.

Panera also said it is making significant progress on its previously announced plan to refranchise 50 to 150 cafes in 2015. As of April 15, the company has entered into letters of intent to sell and refranchise 73 cafes and is on track to reach its refranchising goal for 2015. Panera said it expects the sale of the cafes to be accretive to ongoing earnings and will have a related one-time charge. The company also expects to use the proceeds from the refranchising efforts to repurchase shares, which would be incremental to the $500 million of planned repurchases.

“Recently, Panera has been implementing a series of structural enhancements to improve our competitive position and expand growth opportunities,” said Ron Shaich, chairman CEO. “Panera is focused on building competitive advantage by reducing customer friction in its cafes through its Panera 2.0 initiative, which includes digital access and improved operational processes, and driving customer desire through innovation in food, marketing and store design. Panera has also been focused on driving continued traditional cafe expansion, while working to enhance capabilities necessary to generate expanded growth in several large adjacent businesses, including large-order delivery (catering), small-order delivery and consumer packaged goods. The increase to our share repurchase program reflects our confidence in the business and our ability to continue driving shareholder value in the medium and long term.”

Shaich said Panera remains committed to monitoring its non-strategic costs to enable the company to reallocate resources from support functions to growth initiatives.

“We anticipate this will result in a 5 percent reduction in core G&A expenses in 2015,” he said. “Furthermore, in February, we engaged a leading global management consulting and technology services firm to review our technology plans, processes, procedures and costs.”

One area that is expected to be key to Panera’s growth is technology. To this end, the company said it plans to add an independent outside director with extensive senior-level technology experience.