ST. LOUIS-Panera Bread Co. executives slightly upped their expansion plans for the year, from between 170 to 180 new units, to a new target of 180 to 194. The slight increase takes into account the acquisition in February of a majority stake in the 44-unit, Scottsdale, AZ-based Paradise Bakery and Café.

Executives of the fast-casual outfit say they do not expect the purchase to have much overlap between franchisees in the Southwest markets where the two chains operate. “There’s no conflict of interest simply because there’s very little conflict,” said Ronald Shaich, Panera’s chairman and chief executive officer, during the company’s first-quarter earnings call.

Same-store sales during the quarter, which ended March 27, were flat year over year, and down 1% lower than management’s expectations due to “extreme weather.” Company leadership forecasts same-store sales growth of between 3.5% and 4.5% for the coming period.

Panera’s first-quarter sales came in at just less than $239.7 million, a 24% increase from the same year-ago period. Net income was flat, at $15 million. Second-quarter earnings are projected to grow between 7% to 16% during the same period in 2006.

Panera has 32 new restaurants in the works for the second quarter, 15 company-owned and 17 franchised. During the first quarter the company opened 31 new units, 14 company-owned and 17 franchised, bringing its total to 1,101.

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