Expanding its growing international reach, Darden Restaurants said Thursday it will open almost 60 Red Lobsters, Olive Gardens and LongHorn Steakhouses in Brazil, Colombia, Panama and the Dominican Republic.
Orlando-based Darden has reached an agreement with International Meal Co., a Brazilian company that operates in Central and South America and the Caribbean that will develop and operate the restaurants. Darden will receive royalties from the restaurants, which International Meal Co. will build over five years.
Darden said Brazil in particular has a growing middle class and likes American brands. International Meal Co. has a strong presence in the other three countries, Darden spokesman Rich Jeffers said, so opening there made sense as well.
Darden's international expansion push began in 2010, when it revealed plans to begin building Middle Eastern restaurants. Two Red Lobsters and two Olive Gardens have since opened in the region. Darden also has opened two Olive Gardens in Mexico and plans more restaurants there.
In Puerto Rico, where Darden already has LongHorn Steakhouses, it plans to open Olive Gardens and Red Lobsters as well.
The company also has restaurants in Canada. And it has a small group of Red Lobsters in Japan, which opened in the 1980s and are operated by a separate company that pays Darden royalties.
Many American brands, particularly fast food, have expanded into other countries. Global expansion provides new growth opportunities for brands such as Olive Garden and Red Lobster, which already blanket the United States. Red Lobster only plans to open between one and three North American restaurants in Darden's current fiscal year.
International expansion "gives so much more growth potential," said Dennis Lombardi, a restaurant consultant with Ohio-based WD Partners.
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