Darden Sales Rise on Growing Demand at Olive Garden

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Darden Restaurants Inc (DRI) reported a 4.9 percent rise in quarterly sales, helped by higher comparable sales at its flagship Olive Garden chain, and raised the lower end of its adjusted profit forecast for the full year.

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The company's shares were up 2.4 percent in extended trading.

The quarterly report was the first since activist investor Starboard Value LP ousted Darden's entire board in a stunning loss for the largest full-service restaurant operator in the United States.

Darden said it now expects adjusted profit of $2.25-$2.30 per share from continuing operations for the year ending June 2015, compared with the $2.22-$2.30 it expected earlier.

The company has suffered more than a year of traffic declines at Olive Garden, which accounts for more than half of Darden's overall revenue and about two-thirds of its profit.

Starboard launched a fight to take over Darden's board in May, saying the then-pending sale of Darden's Red Lobster seafood restaurant chain was a "destructive transaction" that ignored the rights of shareholders.

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Darden closed its $2.1 billion sale of Red Lobster on July 28. It also announced the year-end departure of Chief Executive Clarence Otis.

Starboard outlined numerous fixes for Darden's Italian-themed Olive Garden chain, including salting the pasta water, boosting alcohol sales, using technology to eliminate "false waits" for tables and cost-effective digital marketing.

Same-restaurant sales at Olive Garden rose 0.5 percent in the quarter, compared with a 0.4 percent fall expected by analysts polled by Consensus Metrix.

Darden reported a loss of $32.8 million, or 26 cents per share, for its second quarter ended Nov. 23, compared with a profit of $19.8 million, or 15 cents per share, a year earlier.

Excluding items, it earned 28 cents per share.

Sales rose to $1.56 billion from $1.49 billion.

Analysts on average had expected a profit of 27 cents per share on revenue of $1.55 million, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

The Orlando, Florida-based company's shares closed at $55.91 on the New York Stock Exchange on Tuesday.

(Reporting by Devika Krishna Kumar and Nayan Das in Bengaluru and Lisa Baertlein in Los Angeles; Editing by Joyjeet Das)