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Panera profit rises 34 percent as customers pay up

ST. LOUIS (AP) -- Higher prices and better sales of Panera's more profitable menu items lifted the soup and sandwich chain's profit 34 percent in the October-December quarter.

Revenue in Panera restaurants open at least a year, a key retail metric that strips out the skewing effect of new and closed stores, rose 5.1 percent in locations the company owns and 4.7 percent in franchised locations, Panera said Tuesday, because of higher customer checks. The number of purchases fell slightly because of Superstorm Sandy, which struck the East Coast on Oct. 31 and caused power outages for millions.

Shares gained $6.58, or 4 percent, to $168.55 in after-hours trading. The stock has risen 5 percent over the past 12 months though Tuesday's close of $162.97.

Panera Bread Co. owns 809 bakery-cafes, and there are also 843 franchised Paneras. The company gets a percentage of sales from the franchised restaurants.

Chains like Panera and Chipotle that are considered a step up from fast food have gotten more popular with diners in recent years.

The company also on Tuesday named a Goldman Sachs banker, Roger Matthews, as its new CFO. He will start in March, taking over from Thomas Patrick Kelly. Kelly became the temporary finance head in April after the former CFO left for another company.

Fourth-quarter net income came to $51.6 million, or $1.75 per share, just above Wall Street's estimate of $1.74. That's up from $38.6 million, or $1.31 per share, the year before.

Revenue rose 15 percent to $571.6 million, beating expectations of analysts polled by FactSet of $567.4 million. Costs rose 13 percent to $488.2 million. Like other companies in the food industry, Panera has had to deal with higher costs for ingredients and materials.

For the current quarter, Panera expects profit of $1.62 to $1.66 per share. That depends on revenue in stores open at least a year growing 4 to 5 percent. So far in the quarter, that metric is up 3.9 percent.

Analysts expected profit of $1.62 per share in the first quarter.