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Bloomin' Brands sees expansion opportunities in Latin America

Outback Steakhouse is owned by Tampa-based Bloomin' Brands. Some restaurants are operated by franchise owners. Photo provided by Bloomin' Brands
Outback Steakhouse is owned by Tampa-based Bloomin' Brands. Some restaurants are operated by franchise owners. Photo provided by Bloomin' Brands
Published Aug. 25, 2016

Tampa-based Bloomin' Brands, facing stagnant sales domestically, plans to open more restaurants throughout Latin America.

The company has hired a global real estate firm to look for growth opportunities specifically in South America, said Cathie Koch, spokeswoman for Bloomin' Brands. The company will likely target metropolitan areas in Chile and Argentina, while continuing to grow its presence in Brazil, real estate experts said. There are no new locations to announce yet.

"We view South America as an international growth opportunity," Koch said.

Real estate and restaurant experts agree that Latin America is a natural next step for Bloomin', where — despite Brazil's sputtering economy — the company has found some success.

Bloomin' has opened three Abbraccio restaurants, the international version of Carrabba's Italian Grill, in Brazil since last year. Bloomin' also operates 75 Outback Steakhouses in Brazil. Expansion plans include more Outback Steakhouse, Abbraccio and Fleming's Prime Steakhouse and Wine Bar locations in Brazil and other Latin American countries.

"With domestic expansion stalled, global growth is a big opportunity especially for proven American brands," said Darren Tristano, president of Technomic, a Chicago-based food research firm. "Ultimately working in other countries requires a strong partner who knows the industry, markets and the business. This is critical to risk and success."

Bloomin' currently operates one Outback Steakhouse inside a mall in Chile.

Latin America has three of the top 10 countries worldwide primed for retail expansion — Brazil, Uruguay and Chile — according to a recent report by the global real estate firm, JLL. Bloomin' has 90 restaurants in seven Latin American counties right now, the JLL report shows. Bloomin' plans to operate 100 restaurants in Brazil within three years, including opening its first Fleming's Prime Steakhouse and Wine Bar in the country this year.

Other American brands are targeting Latin America in a big way. Nike, Old Navy, Skechers and American Eagle see opportunities for growth in countries like Mexico, Argentina and Columbia.

"American brands appeal to residents and tourists in Latin American because they seem to them as a quality name," said Brian Connors, a hospitality consultant with Connors Davis Hospitality in Fort Lauderdale. "Latin America is an easier market to move into than say the Middle East, because it's closer and the customers there have more similar tastes to what you see in America."

The push for more international locations comes at a time when U.S. sales are slumping for Bloomin's concepts. But, pointed out Andrew Carlson, vice president of retail brokerage for JLL in Tampa, some other American brands in Latin America are thriving while their U.S. locations close or sales continue to shrink. He was referring to has been names like Sizzler, Ponderosa and Fuddruckers restaurants.

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"I think there was still a Blockbuster Video down there just two years ago," Carlson said.

Bloomin' Brands, which operates about 1,500 Outback Steakhouse, Carrabba's Italian Grill, Bonefish Grill and Fleming's Prime Steakhouse and Wine Bar locations, can be found 22 countries and Puerto Rico and will expand soon to the Middle East. Some restaurants are franchise locations.

Outback opened its first international restaurants in 1996 in Canada. By 2009, all Canadian locations were closed, though one restaurant has since opened in Edmonton, Alberta. Bloomin' Brands announced in July that it plans to develop 26 Outback Steakhouse and Abbraccio restaurants in the Middle East over the next five years. Just a week after the Middle East expansion announcement, Bloomin' sold its South Korean business for $49.4 million, according to a regulatory filing. The sale is expected to close in this quarter. The buyer, whose name has not been released, will assume ownership and operations of 74 Outback Steakhouse locations in South Korea as franchises.

Contact Justine Griffin at jgriffin@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8467. Follow @SunBizGriffin.

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