Panera says bad weather hurt sales, trims outlook

NEW YORK (AP) -- Panera reported a lower quarterly profit on Tuesday and cited the "unusually severe weather" for dampening sales at its bakery cafes.

The company, based in St. Louis, also lowered the top end of its profit and sales forecast for the year, sending shares down in after-market trading.

For the first three months of the year, Panera Bread Co. said sales at established locations edged up just 0.1 percent. A decline in transactions was barely offset by an increase in the average amount people spent per visit. Even when stripping out the impact of the weather and calendar shifts, Panera said guest counts declined by 1.3 percent to 1.8 percent.

The decline comes as Panera works to overhaul the way its cafes operate. CEO Ron Shaich has conceded that the system for ordering and picking up food at a nearby counter can be like a chaotic "mosh pit." To change that, the company plans to roll out a format called "Panera 2.0" at its cafes that includes mobile ordering and a streamlined pickup process for to-go orders.

But it's too soon to tell whether the efforts will pay off in an industry that remains highly competitive.

The company earned $42.4 million, or $1.55 per share, for the first quarter. That topped the $1.52 per share Wall Street expected. A year ago, the company earned $48.1 million, or $1.64 per share.

Revenue rose to $605.3 million, above the $597.4 million analysts expected, according to FactSet. Operating margin declined as the company invested in improving its operations and increased marketing spending.

Panera now expects sales at established company-owned cafes to rise 2 percent to 3.5 percent, instead of the 2 percent to 4 percent growth it previously forecast.

Earnings for the full year are expected to be between $6.80 and $7 per share. Previously, the company had forecast between $6.80 and $7.05 per share. Analysts expect $6.93 per share.

Panera, which has about 1,800 locations, said sales at its company-owned locations were up about 0.4 percent for the first 27 days of the current quarter.

Its stock fell more than 5 percent to $155 in after-hours trading.