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Einstein Noah Restaurant Group, Inc. (NASDAQ:BAGL)

Q4 2007 Earnings Call

February 27, 2008 5:15 pm ET

Executives

Paul Murphy - President and CEO

Richard Dutkiewicz - CFO

Analysts

Nicole Miller - Piper Jaffray

Paul Westra - Cowen and Company

Operator

Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for standing by and welcome to the Einstein Noah Restaurant Group fourth quarter earnings conference call. With us today are Paul Murphy, President and CEO, Richard Dutkiewicz, CFO. As a reminder today, Wednesday February 27, 2008 this call is being recorded. Later we will conduct a question-and-answer session. (Operator Instructions) At this time, I would like to turn the conference over to Mr. Paul Murphy, go ahead sir.

Paul Murphy

Thank you. Good afternoon and welcome to Einstein Noah Restaurant’s Group’s 2007 fourth quarter and year end financial results conference call. I am Paul Murphy, President and Chief Executive Officer and with me today is Rick Dutkiewicz, Chief Financial Officer.

Let me start by covering a few regulatory matters. I would like to note during our opening remarks and in our responses to your questions certain items maybe discussed which are not based on historical fact. Such items including statements indicating our belief, trends, plans, expectations, building up foundation and the like should be considered forward-looking statements within the meaning of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. All such forward-looking statements are subject to risks and uncertainties that could cause our actual results to differ materially. For more details, please refer to our news release issued today and to the risk factors in our SEC filings.

Now for some perspective on our fourth quarter and year end results. The company continued to make good progress in both the fourth quarter and full year 2007. Comp store sales, average unit volumes, revenues and net income all showed meaningful increases in the face of an exceptionally difficult operating environment for most restaurant concepts. In addition, the company enters 2008 with a significantly stronger balance sheet than was the case 12 months ago.

In a few moments Rick will present our financial results in detail. But first, I would like to tell you about the steps we took in the fourth quarter of 2007 to set the foundation for continued growth and solid financial performance for 2008 and beyond. There were five major initiatives:

First, we locked in the cost of wheat for all of 2008 through our relationship with Cargill. This has provided us with cost visibility and allowed us to implement a tactical price increase in early 2008.

Second, we realigned our operational leadership team to ensure our restaurants deliver a superior guest experience and strong financial performance. The change allows our leaders to focus on coaching our general managers and crew members. The resulting operational and financial performance in early 2008 shows us we made the right decision for the long-term.

Third, we made adjustments to the field compensation program to place total emphasis on building sales and delivering the appropriate margin dollars.

Fourth, we took a hard look at the costs of operating our support center in Lakewood, Colorado. In early 2008, we reduced our workforce and eliminated certain other costs to ensure solid performance this year and into the future. These reductions will keep our general and administrative costs virtually flat in 2008 while we continue to grow the top line as well as focus on margins.

Fifth and finally, we completed the development of an exciting new menu for the Einstein Brothers Brand. That encourages visitation by more guests more often during more day parts. This new menu uses bold and appetizing photography to feature several new breakfast and lunch items including lighter fare, whole wheat wraps, an assortment of melts, new deli sandwiches on fresh baked bread and a mix match of soup, salad and/or sandwich option. The focus of these changes was to bring more visibility to all we have to offer our existing guests, broaden our appeal across day parts and reduce our costs and offerings without comprising quality. Guest response to the menu changes has been overwhelmingly positive. Einstein Brother’s Comp sales have risen substantially from the periods. We are seeing an improvement in the units sold trend.

Our plan is to introduce similar menu enhancements to Noah’s Bagels by mid year. We also introduced the piper piece of Bagels from the Einstein Brother’s concept to Noah’s in January which was met with enthusiastic guests response. Throughout the year we will continue to test new menu offerings across all day parts to identify new items to expand sales at our restaurants. We are very encouraged by the results of these changes. For 2008, we have limited our exposure to wheat price increases to approximately $6.6 million when compared to our actual cost in 2007. With a measure of cost certainty in place, we now have the flexibility to strategically improve our margins to pricing and new menu offerings. In that sense we created a solid financial foundation that we can build on in 2008 and we are confident we will be able to meet our 2008 financial and growth objectives. This year we plan to expand sales and profitability and continue to open new profitable restaurants.

In order to expand sales and profitability as discussed earlier we have already implemented our enhanced menu for Einstein Brother’s Restaurants and we will continue to operate existing restaurants, increase our focus on hospitality and increase restaurant sales growth through catering. So here is how we plan to do that:

First price increase. Along with the redesign of the menu boards and introduction of new items, the new menu roll out included a price increase of approximately 4.9%.

Second, upgrade selected restaurants; as at the end of 2007 we have upgraded a total a 59 Company owned restaurants, excluding the 10 restaurants upgraded in Q4 of 2007 the restaurants experience on average an 8.6% increase to comparable store sales. Due to the success of the upgrades we planned upgrade at least 45 more restaurants in 2008 at a cost of approximately $5 million. We planned to continue to upgrade restaurants in future years.

Third, increase focus on hospitality; as we mentioned earlier, we realigned our operation leadership in 2007. As part of that effort we created area hospitality managers who are focused on improving hospitality at the restaurant level. We believe we will see the impact of their efforts to better train our general managers, order takers and cashiers and how to positively interact with our guests and make them feel welcome.

Furthermore in 2007, we installed our improved order system which reduces the wait time of our guests and features a wireless mobile ordering pad to a 111 more restaurants. In 2008 we planned to implement the system in 60 to 70 more restaurants where we believe the wait time is a very limiting factor to increase in sales and finally increased restaurant sales through catering; we continued to identify catering as a growth opportunity for our existing base of restaurants. We currently have catering operations that include catering managers and co-coordinators in 20 of our major markets. We plan to add one additional market in 2008, as we believe catering not only leverages our existing restaurant infrastructure with a little or no additional capital investment but also exposes more people to our food and brands.

In addition to expanding sales in our existing restaurants in 2008, we plan to continue our restaurant growth efforts to the opening of company owned, licensed and franchise restaurants. We believe that growth in all these channels of our business is the best way to ensure we open new profitable restaurants in a strong financially sustainable fashion.

First, company owned restaurants. Our expansion plans in this channel are intended to increase penetration in our most attractive markets with an existing brand presence. We plan to open at least 18 new company owned restaurants this year.

Second, licensed restaurants. Licensed restaurants have proven to be our strongest growth vehicle with regard to the opening of new restaurants and we will continue to expect that to be the case in 2008. In 2007, we opened 31 new licensed restaurants, most of which were in colleges and universities. We believe this gives us strong brand exposure to a younger audience that we know will continue to be guests at our Company owned restaurants for years to come. Our plan is to open at least 35 new licensed locations in 2008 to further expand our footprint.

Finally, franchise restaurants. Franchising is a strong growth opportunity for the Einstein Brother’s brand. As we signed two development agreements with franchisees in 2007, there have been plans to open at least 20 restaurants in Northern Florida, where the other plans are to open at least four restaurants in Arkansas.

In addition earlier this month, we signed our newest franchisee which plans to open four restaurants in several counties around Augusta, Georgia and Aiken, South Carolina. Based on all of those agreements we believe that at least five new franchise restaurants including both the Einstein Brothers Bagel brand and the Manhattan Bagel brand will open in 2008. Currently, we have 69 franchise Manhattan Bagel restaurants open throughout the United States.

Earlier, I spoke about the realignment of our field operations team. This factor in particular caused our fourth quarter performance to be below our own expectations. We have realigned our field operations team in early October 2007. This initiative clearly gained traction by mid-December and as of the end of February, we have seen ten weeks of significantly improved margin performance. However, this decision resulted in $1.2 million in cost and margin impact for the fourth quarter.

In closing, we are satisfied with our 2000 results given the difficult environment and very pleased with the building blocks we put in place during the fourth quarter of 2007 to prepare for 2008. We have built a foundation that has so far made and sure to continue to make 2008 a strong growth year for Einstein Noah Restaurant Group.

With that, I would like to turn the call over to Rick Dutkiewicz. As always, I will be available to answer questions during the Q-and-A portion of our call. Rick?

Richard Dutkiewicz

Thanks Paul. Today we reported our 13th consecutive quarter of positive comparable store sales growth, a testament to the power and consumer appeal of our brands during a difficult operating environment for the restaurant industry.

Company-owned restaurants achieved 3.2% year-over-year sales growth in the fourth quarter which comprises 4% in pricing, two-tenths related to the mix of products sold and a slight decline of nine-tenths in units sold. We continue to see impressive results from our upgraded restaurants. Those units posted a 6.1% comparable store sales growth. We intend to upgrade an additional 45 restaurants in 2008. By the end of 2008 we would have upgraded approximately 100 of our company-owned restaurants. Our company-owned restaurants were opened a total of 5349 operating weeks in the quarter. Total revenue increased 6.1% in the fourth quarter to $105.2 million from $99.2 million in the same quarter last year. All three revenue categories increased in the quarter with majority of the increase at our Company owned restaurants which advanced 4.7% to $96.7 million from $92.4 million in the same quarter of 2006.

During the quarter we opened seven new company-owned stores, six of which opened in December and completed the planned closure of four under performing stores. The quarter also benefited from approximately 800,000 of non-recurring revenue from gift-card breakage.

Average unit volume and company-owned restaurants now stands at $909,000 for the trailing 12 months. Manufacturing and commissary revenue was up 27% in the fourth quarter to $6.8 million. The increase was attributable to additional products sold as well as price increases on current products. Franchise and license revenues increase 19.4% to $1.7 million based on opening 14 new license and two new franchise locations in the quarter, coupled with an improvement in comparable store sales at existing locations.

Gross profit in the fourth quarter was adversely affected by substantial increases in agricultural commodities as well as increased labor cost from minimum wage increases that took affect during the year. In a few moments we will discuss how we have addressed the commodity challenges for 2008. The fourth quarter of 2006 had the benefit of a $900,000 adjustment to workers compensation expense. Our gross profit decreased 8.5% to $21.5 million in the fourth quarter. Manufacturing gross profit declined by $1 million due to higher wheat cost as well as approximately $500,000 of one time conversion charges and adjustments. We are in the process of negotiating price increases with our third party customers in early 2008 to off set the impact of agricultural commodities. Our operating expenses increased modestly in the quarter to $12.7 million from $12.6 million.

General and administrative grew by $1.8 million in the fourth quarter to approximately $600,000 of one time charges as well as $1.2 million and cost increases related to taxes, legal fees and other employee related cost. Depreciation and amortization increased approximately $600,000 due to our increased spending on new stores as well as upgrades in 2007. These increases were largely off set by reduction in payment and other related costs of $2.1 million. We reported operating income of $8.8 million in the fourth quarter down from $10.9 million in fourth quarter 2006, once again due to our day and cultural commodities per share. Net interest expense declined 65.2% from $4.9 million to $1.7 million. We reported a $300,000 provision related to state and alternative minimum taxes. We utilized a portion of our annuals to offset the majority of our income tax expense.

Net income increased 12.4% to $6.8 million or $0.41 per diluted share. Our press release earlier today identified approximately $1.5 million of one-time items and impairments in the fourth quarter of 2007 plus the benefit of $800,000 in non-recurring gift-card breakage.

In 2007, we generated $24.9 million of cash from operations versus $14 million in 2006. We have reinvested this cash flow into the business and almost doubled our capital expenditures to $25.1 million in 2007. At year end we have $9.4 million of unrestricted cash.

I want to take a moment to discuss agricultural commodities. If you recall from our third quarter conference call, we entered into a commodity management program with Cargill Inc. to manage our wheat costs. At that time, we had locked in the pricing for the first half of 2008. Since that time, we have successfully locked in our wheat costs for all of 2008. On a year-over-year basis, wheat will cost us $6.1 million more than in 2007. Had we not been proactive and locked in the cost of wheat, today we would be faced with a $15.1 million higher spend for wheat than we paid in 2007. We believe our proactive approach to managing price increases for wheat and other agricultural commodities sets the stage for 2008 with our exposure both known and fixed. To the extent that wheat prices retreat later in the year, our program is structured to allow us to participate in any potential cost relief. This commodity strategy provides cost visibility which allowed us to implement the tactical price increases in conjunction with our new menu rollout in late January of 2008.

We thank you for your ongoing support and look forward to answering any questions you might have. Operator, you may now open the call to questions. Questions may be addressed to either Paul or myself.

Question-and-Answer Session

Operator

Thank you. (Operator Instructions) Your first question comes from the line of Nicole Miller - Piper Jaffray.

Nicole Miller - Piper Jaffray

I am on the road, I hope you guys can hear me okay?

Paul Murphy

Yeah, we sure can Nicole.

Nicole Miller - Piper Jaffray

Okay, great. Can we get the dollar amount for food, cost labor, other occupancy and think that should be the four we need in dollar amounts, they weren’t broken out in the press release.

Richard Dutkiewicz

Yeah, they are not, Nicole. I have that information. We’ll shed and provide that as a supplement to this.

Nicole Miller - Piper Jaffray

Can you remind us of our dollar increase in wheat, what would that be, fall through to you guys and then proper think big picture, I mean I know 2009 is a long ways out but you have the ability to lock in here and save your selves money. Is this going to be a continued pressure into the foreseeable future? How do you think about the long-term ability to lock in wheat at what prices and how much price can you take to off set. I guess this is just -- as much long-term big picture commentary you can share?

Richard Dutkiewicz

Yes. We will start with your first question, Nicole. For every one dollar increase in a bushel of wheat, it costs us roughly $1.5 million per year additional cost to producing our product, okay? So that’s phase one. Let me explain what the strategy we took with Cargill and what we are doing with them. We have seen an awful lot of uphill pressure and wheat as a blade, although if you look at today’s market it came down pretty substantially in virtually all the futures periods. We engage Cargill because we believe they have got substantially better visibility then we would ever have with respect to these agricultural commodities and when you start looking to 2009 you have got too harvests and two plantings yet to come.

We do know in fact that there has been an increase in terms of bad acreage, has been turned over for weeks and at this point we have not taken any coverage in 2009 because we believe number one that the markets are a little irrational in terms of their pricing and they are probably presumptive that will once again have something of a perfect storm like we had in 2007 and that perfect storm was frost on the winter wheat crop. Throughout the effected of the spring wheat crop and then throughout that affected the crop in the southern hemisphere. We already know that additional acreage has been planted, we just don’t believe that all this has been taken in to effect in those future periods and they are advising us to wait patiently on 2009.

Paul Murphy

Nicole, this is Paul. I just want to add to that is that as a internally we have our own metrics that we use with Cargill for entry points and we are already looking at 2009 and kind of these are our financial plans and we feel like we have a good strategy even beyond 2008.

Nicole Miller - Piper Jaffray

That’s very helpful and then just as a last question, can you provide for end -- give us a guidance in how the current environment is shaping up? Whether it seems for sales in the first quarter to date, anything you can share there.

Paul Murphy

I sure can. As you recall into the price increase at the beginning of what we referred as period two, quarter-to-date chain store sales are up 3.6%. They accelerated in the second period and are continuing to accelerate.

Nicole Miller - Piper Jaffray

Thank you very much.

Operator

(Operator Instructions) Your next question comes from the line of Paul Westra – Cowen and Company.

Paul Westra – Cowen and Company

Good afternoon.

Paul Murphy

Good afternoon Paul.

Paul Westra – Cowen and Company

Can you let us know where all these-one time items that you recorded with Rick on the 0.5 manufacturing system charges -- in the fixed manufacturing cost line?

Paul Murphy

That’s correct 0.5 goes to manufacturing cost line.

Paul Westra – Cowen and Company

Okay

Paul Murphy

$1.2 million goes to company-owned restaurant cost.

Paul Westra – Cowen and Company

Okay

Paul Murphy

0.6 goes in the G&A and 0.3 goes into operating expense.

Paul Westra – Cowen and Company

Okay, then the breakage you said 800,000 or so was one time and.

Paul Murphy

That’s up in company-owned restaurant sales Paul.

Paul Westra – Cowen and Company

Right and that was a $1.2 million total number, but it’s easy for 400,000 you got an extra 800 is that why we should think about it.

Paul Murphy

Exactly right and it’s normally around a $0.5 million of gift card-breakage. Because of the relationship restructure this year we get the benefit and an additionally 800,000 on that.

Paul Westra – Cowen and Company

Right you are in the fourth quarter, right?

Paul Murphy

Right so that, so the 800,000 is one time up in the revenue line $0.5 million is recurring.

Paul Westra – Cowen and Company

Right okay and just to clarify as well I think in your comments you said the wheat impact with 6.1.

Paul Murphy

I am sorry 6.6.

Paul Westra – Cowen and Company

It is 6.6, okay.

Paul Murphy

I can give you that by quarter if you would like?

Paul Westra – Cowen and Company

It would be helpful.

Paul Murphy

$1.5 million in Q1, $1.4 million in Q2, $2 million in Q3 and $1.7 million in Q4.

Paul Westra – Cowen and Company

Great. And then comments on the G&A. You said you can hold it flat, that versus the reported number of 9. – I don’t have it in front of me, but 9…

Paul Murphy

You mean $40.6 million?

Paul Westra – Cowen and Company

I'm sorry, yes, 40.6.

Paul Murphy

The intention is hold at virtually flat to the 40.6.

Paul Westra – Cowen and Company

And can you walk us through a little bit where, just exactly where the headcount reductions were made just a little more color on the reorganization.

Paul Murphy

Well we really had -- Paul, this is Paul -- in the support center, it was actually spread among the few departments. We did reorganize in our supply chain and distribution and that was -- we had more of the headcount than others, but we did take a little bit out of F&L and then some others also in manufacturing where we combined some positions that we didn’t feel like that we really needed. Also some of the costs is coming out of just some programs that we felt just weren’t really -- we were benefiting from early day, so we also made some changes there.

Richard Dutkiewicz

I will expand on that a little bit. Some of the Paul was third party providers and we made a decision that we probably had the resources internally to do that work as well or better and so we just felt that those are not value added costs to the organization. I think one other item in terms of when we look at cleanup here is as you all recall that our debt is based on LIBOR plus a 200 basis point margin. Yesterday, we locked $75.5 million of that LIBOR debt at roughly 5.05% for six months. So we are going to see some very real cash relief and interest expense relief in the P&L prospective basis.

Paul Westra – Cowen and Company

Okay. And then I guess now back to the sort of the business here. You mentioned that -- how many is the entire system or in fact the entire system now have all the elements that you described here or if you could walk us through, the menu boards and virtually all places now I know --?

Paul Murphy

Yes, all the Einsteins, they are fully loaded.

Paul Westra – Cowen and Company

And you said that you do a 111 more stores with the ordering system or --?

Paul Murphy

Actually we are going to do 60 to 70, we completed 111 this 2007. We will do another 60 to 70 in 2008, really focusing on stores that we feel like we have the ability to increase the transaction count where it’s been a limiting factor for us.

Paul Westra – Cowen and Company

Right. So it sounds like that will be in the federal system or so, I’ll give a take and that’s just where you wanted it to be obviously, but it’s not --?

Paul Murphy

Correct. I mean we will take a look at that as really what do we feel would be the upside by putting that system in and then those of the stores that we choose to do it and you know, we may do a few more stores as we get into 2009 as a these continue to decline.

Paul Westra – Cowen and Company

And, I'm just interested on your comment, so you mentioned that year-to-date comps I guess were up 3.6. Obviously the additional 2.5 or so pricing was added just the last I guess three weeks here and obviously you are implying that things have picked up and is it safe to say after the -- I guess the transaction run rate really hasn’t -- I mean the customers are well receptive to the net improvements.

Paul Murphy

Yeah, we are seeing that has been very well received.

Richard Dutkiewicz

Yeah, just think that through Paul is that, like I said you only had a few weeks -- you had a few weeks in period two that had the pricing. You will now have five weeks in period three that will get that benefit and so that’s why I alluded to the fact that when you look at the three points stage, it’s kind of a tail of 2 points in time with period two being substantially in excess what period one was. Now period three will also enjoy that pricing.

Paul Westra – Cowen and Company

Right. Now, and now given your new second half, when did you lock in by the way in the second half of the year?

Richard Dutkiewicz

We locked in, in January, Paul? We locked in right after about a not terribly -- after the crop report on January 11.

Paul Westra – Cowen and Company

Okay. And then just last. Then your just sort of pricing strategy going forward I know you are going to play it by year I guess, obviously you had implemented the current 4.9. When would -– I think it was a 2.5 roll-off like in the summer?

Richard Dutkiewicz

Yeah, let’s kind of go through quarter by how this looks. We can do that too, can see what pricing is. I would say Q1, you got roughly about 6.5% of pricing in Q1 in aggregate, when you look at the quarter plus what we just recently took. That actually increases roughly 7% in Q2 when you aggregate all the pricing, drops back to 5.5% in Q3 and then goes to the 4.9% which is what we just implemented in Q4. So the full year on a weighted average basis is getting pretty close to a 6% pricing effect.

Paul Westra – Cowen and Company

Okay and if you just -- if we don’t do anything from here, that 6% you are comfortable that -- I guess the 6% cover is what you expect this place to be and if you have a normalized say comp number, you’d be able to hold margins steady, is that what sort of the philosophy is?

Richard Dutkiewicz

That’s correct. We wanted to cover the impact of the agricultural commodities. That was why we locked it, finalized all the pricing, put it in place. We may again, I mean there is always -- with wheat being where it is and recognizing. Had we not been proactive, we wouldn’t be talking about 6.6, we’d be talking about $15.1 million. There may be other concepts out there that are forced to actually be more aggressive on pricing, so there may be some opportunity for us later in the year.

Paul Murphy

You know, Paul, this is Paul. I think if you want to call an advantage for us is that we had -- by had everything locked in we achieved visibility on enough that we had in terms of our financial plans and we were able to take the appropriate measures now to cover that liability.

Paul Westra – Cowen and Company

Fantastic and now what are you doing on the marketing indoor. On your side of things now you have all your products and there’s the three year applic and finally get going. I guess it must be a pretty exciting time I guess, so you have -- how are you communicating with your consumers, I guess, or are you just going to -- they come up and they know it right away or are you going to try to maybe do some reaching efforts there?

Paul Murphy

Well, the reaching efforts that we have -- we actually are, well, hopefully in the next few weeks will be announcing some partnerships that we are working on, that will really help us with outreach in terms of marketing our brand and even helping to getting the menu out there outside of the stores and beyond our existing customer base and then to new people. Quite frankly Paul, I can't quite tell you who that is right at this second, but that’s coming up in the very near future. So I think that we have some exciting things that are coming up against that.

Paul Westra – Cowen and Company

As far as marketing budget, you minus what you have planned and what it compares to last year?

Paul Murphy

There will be a modest change year-over-year at this point. Again it will be a function of what we see with some of the efforts into the extent they bare fruit, we are more than willing to throw more dollars against it.

Paul Westra – Cowen and Company

How much did you spend last year?

Paul Murphy

Oh no, it’s a $3 million on kind of a combination marketing, production and advertising.

Paul Westra – Cowen and Company

Okay great. Alright thanks a lot.

Paul Murphy

Thanks Paul.

Operator

(Operator Instructions) At this time there are no further questions.

Paul Murphy

We would like to thank you for joining us and we look forward to speaking to you again in the first quarter earnings call. I hope everybody has a great evening. Thank you for joining us.

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