Great Harvest's Shot at Panera Goes to FTC
Eric Keshin, president of Great Harvest Bread Co.
Well, you can’t say Eric Keshin lacks chutzpah, as the president of Great Harvest Bread Co. sent a letter to the Federal Trade Commission this week requesting it and the Justice Department look into the purchase of Panera Bread by JAB Holding Co. and examine it on anti-competitive grounds.
So, the Great Harvest Bread franchise with 195 locations is trying to block the $7.5 billion acquisition of Panera, which has north of 2,000 units, by German behemoth JAB. Or, at least to rattle the cages as Great Harvest also prepares for its first mediation hearing, scheduled for next week, over the federal lawsuit it filed against Panera in March 2016.
The trademark infringement lawsuit has not been settled, Keshin wrote. “Panera’s ‘Food as it Should Be’ tagline has been in question due to its similarity with Great Harvest’s ‘Bread. The Way it Ought to Be,’ and Panera’s $7.5 billion sale includes the purchase of the trademark that is under scrutiny.”
The letter to the FTC said: “Although we realize the antitrust laws protect competition, and not competitors, this competitor in the fast-casual bakery café market will have new, serious competitive risks from the proposed merger,” going on to list other aspects that concern Keshin.
Panera, not shockingly, declined via email to comment.
Why is Keshin taking aim at such a big target? He gave me a great interview on the subject today, which I’ll cover in depth in an upcoming story in Franchise Times. The way he explains it, it doesn’t seem so off-the-wall after all. But the short version: “We have to raise our hand and say, 'Would you look at this, please?' That’s our right,” Keshin said. In the annals of David-and-Goliath stories, this one could be a classic.