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Outback Steakhouse owner Bloomin’ Brands exploring possible sale

The Tampa-based company is considering that option among other “strategic alternatives."

TAMPA — Bloomin’ Brands, the Tampa-based parent company of Outback Steakhouse, announced Wednesday it will look into putting itself up for sale.

CEO David Deno said over the last few years the company has improved its customer experience through restaurant makeovers, added pickup options and expanded use of delivery services such as Doordash. It also has grown its footprint abroad.

Yet shareholder value hasn’t matched the progress, he said during Wednesday’s quarterly earnings call.

“We’re looking at all different alternatives for our company, which potentially would include a sale of the company,” Deno told analysts.

“We think there is a very large disconnect between what we’re producing each and every quarter versus the value of the company,” he said.

Bloomin’ Brands stock was trading at $23.27 when the markets closed Wednesday, up more than 11 percent. At that share price, the total stock market value of Bloomin’ Brands was a little over $2 billion.

While chain restaurants have struggled, Bloomin’ restaurants — Outback, Bonefish Grill, Carrabba’s Italian Grill and Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar — have kept mostly consistent comparative sales each quarter.

The company has met earnings expectations 13 out of 14 quarters, Deno said, missing the target only in the quarter after Hurricane Irma. Plus, he said, it has good cash flow, its margins are improving and it is experimenting.

“Really, being flat is like growing because everyone is losing shares,” said restaurant analyst and CEO of Foodservice Results Darren Tristano.

Bloomin’ Brands’ value could “be a littler higher today than it has been before" Tristano said. So, it makes sense to explore a sale now.

This is not the first time the idea of selling the company, or some of its restaurants, has been raised at Bloomin’ Brands. But before, it came from activist investor Jana Partners, a New York hedge fund that now has about a 9 percent stake in the company. Jana, which declined comment Wednesday, had pushed for sales-leader Outback to be spun off into its own company.

Tristano doubts the board would recommend Outback be sold off separately, because consumers find value in variety. Bloomin’ has been testing pick-up hubs in Tampa that have family to-go meals from both Carrabba’s and Outback under the same roof.

More likely, Tristano said, is that Bloomin’ will be able to make a profit from selling its smallest brand, Fleming’s, and use that money to invest back in its three others. An investor likely would be attracted to Fleming’s room for growth, the analyst said.

RELATED: Activist investor takes 9 percent stake in Bloomin’ Brands

“We decided working with the board to step back and ask the fundamental question, ‘What’s the best capital structure to go forward?’" Deno said. “So we’ve used this opportunity to look at strategic alternatives. No, we’re not responding to things. We’re taking action here."

Bloomin’ Brands reported revenue of $967.1 million during the three months through the end of September, up less than a percent from the same quarter last year. Its U.S. restaurant sales mostly stayed the same this quarter — except for a 2 percent dip at Bonefish — but Outback Brazil’s sales grew 11 percent.

The Bloomin’ board of directors has retained BofA Securities as its financial adviser as it looks at strategy options. The board will review alternatives while continuing business as usual, Deno said.

There’s no timetable for a decision, and no guarantee that the review will result in a sale or other change of any kind, the company said.

Contact Richard Danielson at rdanielson@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3403. Follow @Danielson_Times. Contact Sara DiNatale at sdinatale@tampabay.com.

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