US bakery chain Panera Bread has posted higher quarterly profit, boosted by new store openings.

The St Louis-based company, which operates a chain of bakery cafés, reported profit of US$7m, or 23 cents a share, for the third quarter to 4 October, compared with $5.2m, or 17 cents a share, a year earlier. The result met analysts’ expectations, reported Reuters.

Third-quarter revenue increased to $84m from $65.5m a year earlier.

Panera also said it would pay $14.1m to buy 12 franchise bakery cafés in order to grow its business.

The company said the purchase, which would see it expand in the Toledo, Ohio and Ann Arbor, Michigan markets, is expected to add “modestly” to its 2004 profits.

“As a result we have even greater confidence in our ability to meet our 2004 earnings per diluted share target of $1.31, a 30% increase over 2003 targeted results of $1.01,” Panera chairman and CEO Ron Shaich was quoted by Reuters as saying.