The 'Stew' Behind Panera Bread's Stock Pop

Shares of Panera Bread are up 20 percent year-to-date, outperforming many other restaurant stocks as it continues to post strong growth despite a sluggish economy.

The 'Stew' Behind Panera Bread's Stock Pop

Characterizing the third quarter as "superb," Ron Shaich, founder and co-CEO of Panera Bread, told CNBC on Wednesday the company is expecting another superb fourth quarter. "We're looking at earnings on our targets up 31 to 33 percent in Q4," he said.

This is a stark contrast to Chipotle Mexican Grill which, when it reported earnings last week, forecast slowing same-store sales growth next year and cautioned that food inflation could eat into margins. (Read More: Chipotle Misses on Earnings, Sees Slowing Sales Growth.)

"For the last ten years, we've been driving growth through a stew of factors," the Panera Bread executive said in a "Squawk on the Street" interview. "It's about food. It's about operations. It's about marketing. It's about catering."

He added that all of the company's investment and energy has been to build a long-term competitive differentiation.

That has meant investing in areas of the business like catering that are more profitable. "The catering business has grown 50 percent on a two-year rate," Shaich said. "That growth in catering changes the mix. It brings up the average check, the average profit per transaction."

While part of its 6.2 percent increase in same-store sales in the third quarter was driven by a 3 percent rise in menu prices, the Panera executive said the company "has never taken price beyond inflation."

Consumers continue to eat at Panera because they choose things they consider good value, Shaich said.

"Good value isn't how cheap it is," he noted. "It's whether it's worth the money. What Panera continues to do is try to put out a better and better experience that's worth the money."

-By Justin Menza, CNBC News Writer

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