Partnerships / Acquisitions

Panera Eats Up Au Bon Pain

Panera Bread is rebuying Au Bon Pain, though for how much remains to be seen.

Panera and Au Bon Pain have a long and peculiar history in the restaurant industry. Panera CEO Ron Shaich merged his cookie business (the Cookie Jar) with Au Bon Pain to create the Au Bon Pain Company. In the early 90s, Au Bon Pain bought up Saint Louis Bread Company, which would go on to be renamed Panera Bread.

In 1991, the firm went public, with Shaich staying on as CEO. In 1998, Au Bon Pain was sold off in favor of growing Panera.

“With the acquisition we are announcing today, we are bringing Au Bon Pain and Panera together again,” Shaich said in a statement on Wednesday (Nov. 8). “This acquisition offers the strategic opportunity for us to grow in several new real estate channels.”

As it turns out, even companies can go home again. The buy will allow Panera to expand with a small footprint and to squeeze into high-traffic locations (transport terminals, schools, hospitals) where the chain is particularly well-established.

The purchase of the bakery and coffee chain comes just six months after Panera was purchased by JAB Holding for about $7.5 billion. Shaich said at the time that Panera had proven to be a successful public company, but that it would be able to do more as a private business.

While most Americans may not be familiar with Luxembourg-based JAB, they certainly are familiar with the brands the company controls. Keurig Green Mountain  and Krispy Kreme are both part of the JAB family.

Dunkin’ Brands, a long-speculated target for JAB, recently saw shares jump when rumors of that acquisition started circling anew.

Shortly before the Au Bon Pain acquisition news broke, the brand’s CEO had another big announcement: Shaich revealed that he’s stepping down, effective Jan. 1, but will remain chairman of Panera’s board of directors.

The CEO said he’ll continue to work on strategy, communications and acquisitions for Panera, plus focus on his personal investments and initiatives for JAB.

“This is the right time for me to step down as CEO while still staying involved in the business as chairman,” Shaich said. “I’ve now completed 36 years as a leader of our company, and I’m particularly pleased to be able to say that Panera has been the best-performing restaurant stock of the last 20 years.”

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