DARDEN REPORTS STRONG THIRD QUARTER GAINS

Stong Sales by Olive Garden, Red Lobster Push Earnings

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Darden Restaurants, Orlando, Fla., on Thursday reported earning gains for its third quarter.

The company, parent of casual-dining chains Olive Garden and Red Lobster, showed a 33% net earnings gain to $66.2 million, or 54 cent per share, for the quarter ended Feb. 24. Total quarterly sales were up 14.7% to $1.1 billion.

At Red Lobster same-store sales rose 12%, more than double the 5.5% gain during the same quarter in 2001. The seafood chain attributed strong traffic from its $12.99 "all you can eat shrimp" promotion.

The promotion was

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backed by a TV campaign via Havas Advertising's Euro RSCG McConnaughy Tatham, Chicago, that ended the brief tenure of the Chef Ned character in favor of more product-focused spots.

Olive Garden also increased sales at stores open a year by 9.8% for the period, well above the 5.6% quarter-over-quarter gain last year. Promotions, including the Culinary Institute in Italy tie-in with a $8.95 Tortelloni di Fizzano and seafood and chicken alfredo offers, ran during the period, backed by TV spots via Grey Global Group's Grey Advertising, New York.

"This has been an extraordinary quarter, substantially exceeding our long-term financial goals," Chairman-CEO Joe R. Lee, said in a statement. "We had all-time third quarter highs in sales and earnings despite the economic and social uncertainty the nation continued to face."

Darden also operates Bahama Breeze and Smokey Bones BBQ Sports Bar.

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