Red Lobster Sold to Golden Gate

Darden Restaurants, Inc. (NYSE: DRI) today announced that it has entered into a definitive agreement to sell its Red Lobster business and certain other related assets and assumed liabilities to Golden Gate Capital for $2.1 billion in cash.

Darden expects to receive net cash proceeds, after tax and transaction costs, of approximately $1.6 billion, of which approximately $1.0 billion will be used to retire outstanding debt. The remaining net proceeds of approximately $500 million to $600 million will be deployed for a new share repurchase program of up to $700 million in fiscal 2015. In addition to strengthening the Company’s credit metrics, with the lower debt levels and reduced outstanding share count, Darden expects to maintain its current quarterly dividend of $0.55 per share, or $2.20 annually.

The agreement announced today is the culmination of a robust process to maximize the value potential of a sale or spin-off of Red Lobster and its real estate assets. As part of this process, the Company and its advisors directly contacted a broad universe of potential financial and strategic buyers to purchase the Red Lobster business. In addition, a significant number of real estate buyers were also contacted to facilitate attractive sale-leaseback financing for the purchase of the Red Lobster business.

In reaching the conclusion that this agreement is in the best interest of all Darden’s shareholders, the Darden Board considered, among other things, that:

  • The all cash consideration provides Darden with immediate and certain value to reduce debt and support its capital return initiatives, including maintaining the Company’s dividend, which Darden shareholders have stated is a priority. In the past five fiscal years, Darden has returned nearly $2 billion to shareholders through share repurchases and dividends;
  • The purchase price is approximately 9x Red Lobster’s earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) for the twelve months ending April 27, 2014;
  • The transaction maximizes the value of the Red Lobster business, while eliminating the risks and uncertainties to Darden and Darden shareholders relating to Red Lobster’s turnaround or to separately monetizing the Red Lobster real estate assets;
  • The Company explored numerous separation alternatives for Red Lobster and the value potential of each, including (i) a spin-off of the Red Lobster business, (ii) a sale of the Red Lobster business, (iii) a spin-off of the Red Lobster operating company and a separate sale of its real estate, (iv) retaining the Red Lobster operating company and separating its real estate, and (v) retaining both the Red Lobster operating company and its real estate. The Board concluded that the agreement with Golden Gate Capital is the superior value creating alternative;
  • The agreement is structured to minimize closing risk. Golden Gate Capital has obtained committed debt financing, has fully executed a separate sale-leaseback agreement, and its offer is subject to customary closing conditions and regulatory approvals; and
  • The separation of Red Lobster from Darden will better enable the management teams of each company to focus their exclusive attention on their distinct value creation opportunities.

Chuck Ledsinger, Lead Director of Darden’s Board of Directors, said, “Today’s announcement is the culmination of a highly competitive process designed to maximize the value of the Red Lobster business and better position Darden for success. The structure of the agreement enables us to capture the value of Red Lobster and establish a market validated valuation of its real estate, while also enabling us to avoid the risks associated with continuing to operate the business in the current challenging environment. As we move forward, we remain committed to building on Darden’s leadership and will continue to focus on optimizing all of the Company’s assets, including its real estate.”

Clarence Otis, Darden’s Chairman and CEO, said, “Over the past months, we have had extensive conversations with our shareholders about Darden and the Company’s strategic direction. By enabling us to bolster the Company’s financial foundation and increase our focus on the Olive Garden brand renaissance program, we believe this agreement addresses key issues that our shareholders have raised, including the need to preserve the Company’s dividend and regain momentum at Olive Garden. At the same time, it provides Red Lobster and its dedicated employees and leadership team with a partner who has a strong track record in the industry and is as equally dedicated to Red Lobster’s success. Our Board and management team are highly focused on enhancing shareholder value, and we believe this transaction is consistent with the efforts underway to deliver on this responsibility.”

“Red Lobster is an exceptionally strong brand with an unparalleled market position in seafood casual dining,” said Josh Olshansky, Managing Director at Golden Gate Capital. “Red Lobster is exactly the type of company in which we seek to invest given its great brand profile and strong management team. We see significant opportunities for future growth by partnering with Kim Lopdrup and the management team to support the long-term success of Red Lobster.”

May 16, 2014