OSI sales and profits improve slowly

Sales and profits are improving slowly at the parent of Outback Steakhouse, but officials Wednesday said a full-fledged fix requires a methodical plan to rejuvenate the brand.

“We expect our industry will continue to be soft in both sales and traffic through 2010,” said Liz Smith, chief executive of OSI Restaurant Partners, which operates 1,477 restaurants and five casual dining chains. “So it is going to take investments in menu, marketing and stores for us to emerge from this economic environment as a winner.”

Speaking on an earnings call for the first time since arriving at the Tampa company five months ago, the consumer packaged goods industry veteran outlined plans to bulk up the company’s research, consumer tracking, technology and training efforts. She also intends to spend up to $90 million on renovations at up to 50 of the 970 Outback stores, but added about half of them need it.

The key element: avoid deep discounting by offering a value menu enhanced with more variety, healthy choices and portion options. That includes launching several sub-500 calorie entrees this month.

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