When last we left the Bruegger’s bagel chain, its upstate stores, run by a franchisee in Rochester, were in the process of being folded into company-owned operations headquartered in Texas, which then were due to become another holding of a European investment group.
Fast-forward four years, and Bruegger’s just became part of Panera Brands, the newly christened umbrella for fast-casual eateries Panera Bread, Caribou Coffee and Einstein Bros. Bagels.
All are controlled by JAB Holding Co., the investment arm of a wealthy German family that seeks out companies with strong brands, growth potential and cash flow in five categories: coffee and beverages; fast-casual restaurants; pet care; beauty and luxury; and “indulgence.”
Panera Bread will anchor the new Panera Brands “powerhouse platform,” according to last week’s formation announcement. JAB acquired Panera Bread in 2017; it acquired Einstein Bros. Bagels in 2014 and Caribou Coffee in 2013. All previously were publicly traded companies when JAB bought them out and took them private.
Einstein also includes the bagel brands Noah’s NY Bagels, Manhattan Bagel and Bruegger’s, although Bruegger’s, a local standard since the chain opened its first store in Troy in 1983, technically was acquired by Caribou in 2017.
Together, Panera Brands will have nearly 4,000 locations in 10 countries, the companies said.
At the helm will be Niren Chaudhary, Panera Bread’s CEO and now group CEO of Panera Brands. The heads of Einstein and Caribou will keep their jobs, reporting to Chaudhary.
Bringing the three chains together will capitalize on “each company’s unique expertise and services to build an unrivaled fast-casual platform with a tremendous runway for growth,” Chaudhary stated in a news release.
Speculation immediately turned to JAB grooming another of its holdings for an initial public offering, as it just did with doughnut chain Krispy Kreme in June. But Chaudhary was noncommittal in media interviews.
Instead, the news release talked up Panera Bread’s success in pivoting to more off-premises and digital access during the coronavirus pandemic so that “45 percent of sales are e-commerce” and sales overall have recovered from last year’s Covid-19 disruptions to surpass 2019 levels.
Chaudhary listed Panera Bread’s “distinctive competencies” in suggesting the combined Panera Brands “will be in a unique position to turbocharge the growth in Caribou Coffee and Einstein Bros. Bagels, alongside Panera Bread.”
I asked a spokesman for some insight into how that might occur, but he responded in an email with a pat answer: “All current business operations will remain as is – there are no plans for any changes at this time.”
He said the eateries joining Panera Brands “will continue to operate independently,” and while some crossover might seem natural, “each brand’s guests have a particular love and affinity for what each brand offers, so at this time there is no plan for a combination of services.”
Marlene Kennedy is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in her column are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Reach her at [email protected]