* Third-quarter earnings/share $1.02 vs est. $1.01
* Third-quarter sales in-line with Wall St expectations
* Says consumers adjusting to higher payroll taxes, gasoline
* Shares up 1.3 percent
March 22 Darden Restaurants Inc, owner
of the Olive Garden and Red Lobster chains, said it would offer
a better selection of lower-priced fare after blaming higher
payroll taxes and gasoline prices for a fall in traffic in the
The company, which has already introduced lighter lunch
items such as calzones and Italian sandwiches at Olive Garden
and non-seafood items at Red Lobster, said it would also be more
aggressive with promotions.
"We've started (affordable pricing) and we are seeing an
improvement in traffic at all three of our large brands," a
company executive said on a conference call with analysts.
Chief Executive Clarence Otis said consumers were not
prepared for the payroll tax increase and the rapid rise in
gasoline prices. "But March indicates that consumers have
adjusted," Otis said on the call.
Orlando-based Darden, which also owns LongHorn Steakhouse,
reported third-quarter results that were largely in line with
analysts' recently lowered estimates.
The company cut its 2013 profit forecast in February when it
reported lower-than-expected preliminary results for the quarter
ended Feb. 24.
The final results released on Friday were virtually
unchanged from those released last month.
Net income fell to $134.4 million, or $1.02 per share, from
$164.1 million, or $1.25 per share, a year earlier.
Sales rose 4.6 percent to $2.26 billion.
Analysts on average expected a profit of $1.01 per share on
sales of $2.26 billion, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
The company reiterated its full-year profit forecast of
$3.06 to $3.22 per share. Analysts expect $3.16 per share.
Combined same-restaurant sales fell 4.6 percent in the third
Darden shares were up 1.3 percent at $49.62 in mid-morning
trading on the New York Stock Exchange on Friday.