Last August, I expressed concerns that quite a few companies were scrambling to climb aboard the low-carb bandwagon, just as the wheels appeared to be wobbling off. A year later, the driving force behind the fad, Atkins Nutritionals, has filed for bankruptcy, its followers have abandoned the diet in droves, and most of the staggering 3,800 retail products specifically targeted to the low-carb crowd have either been yanked from store shelves or languish on them at discounted prices.
Now that things have come full circle, it seems fitting that Panera Bread
Though not quite as ambitious as the ubiquitous Starbucks
Panera has carved out an impressive niche, but it has also rolled out products and services designed to differentiate it from competitors. The company is one of the nation's largest providers of free in-store wireless Internet services. Its new, all-natural chicken has been well received, with chicken menu items as a percentage of total sales quadrupling since this time last year. And for those who can't visit, the Via Panera take-out service is a convenient alternative, offering catering services for everything from early-morning board room meetings to box lunches for family gatherings.
Panera has emerged from the low-carb slowdown relatively unscathed and poised for future growth. Though after running up by more than 60% over the past 12 months, the shares may need some time to cool down.
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Fool contributor Nathan Slaughter owns none of the companies mentioned.