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Panera quarterly profit down as it works to speed up service

July 29 (Reuters) - Panera Bread Co on Tuesday reported a 4 percent decline in quarterly profit as it works to speed up service at its popular bakery cafes.

Net income fell to $49.2 million, or $1.82 per share, for the second quarter that ended on July 1. Panera earned $51.0 million, or $1.74 per share, in the year-ago quarter, when the company had more shares outstanding.

Sales at company-owned bakery cafes open at least 18 months inched up 0.1 percent in the latest quarter, missing the 1.6 percent rise analysts had expected, according to Consensus Metrix.

Panera said those sales were up about 2 percent for the first 27 days of the current third quarter.

The fast-growing chain until recently was an investor favorite for its ability to keep increasing restaurant sales despite the sluggish U.S. economic recovery. That run ended last autumn, when Panera said that it was experiencing "operational friction" that limited its ability to squeeze more sales from existing units.

(Reporting by Lisa Baertlein in Los Angeles; Editing by James Dalgleish)