Thai Union buys stake in U.S. chain Red Lobster in $575 million deal

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thai Union Group PCL TU.BK, the world's biggest producer of canned tuna, said it has bought a minority stake in U.S. seafood chain Red Lobster Seafood Restaurants in a $575 million deal to expand in the United States, its biggest market.

The company, known for its “Chicken of the Sea” tuna brand, said on Monday it had taken a 25 percent interest in the restaurant chain, with the option to acquire an additional 24 percent through the conversion of preferred shares.

The Thai company paid $230 million for the 25 percent stake, and $345 million for the preferred shares, which are convertible to common stock within 10 years.

Private equity firm Golden Gate Capital will remain Red Lobster’s majority owner and retain operational control, Thai Union said.

Thai Union has been seeking to boost its business through acquisitions after it scrapped a $1.5 billion deal to buy U.S. rival Bumble Bee Seafoods in December. The Thai company is a supplier to Red Lobster, as well as to Wal-Mart Stores Inc WMT.N and Costco Wholesale Corp COST.O.

CEO Thiraphong Chansiri told reporters in Bangkok on Tuesday the company is considering issuing bonds and seeking long-term loans this year to refinance the $575 million in bridge loans it took to fund the acquisition so that its debt-to-equity ratio does not exceed 1.1 times.

Thai Union has received six-month bridge loans of 20 billion baht ($575 million) from three domestic banks - Bangkok Bank BBL.BK, Siam Commercial Bank SCB.BK and Bank of Ayudhya BAY.BK - for the purchase, Thiraphong said.

The Thai firm is on track to achieve a revenue target of $8 billion by 2020 and expected revenue of $5 billion in 2016, the CEO said.

Golden Gate Capital acquired Red Lobster for about $2.1 billion in July 2014 from Darden Inc DRI.N, the parent of the Olive Garden chain of restaurants.

Thai Union bought Canadian lobster processor Les Pecheries de Chez Nous for an undisclosed amount earlier this year.

Reporting by Abhijith Ganapavaram in Bengaluru; and Manunphattr Dhanananphorn in Bangkok; Writing by Khettiya Jittapong; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman