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OM in the News: Red Lobster’s Vertical Integration Into Lobster Farming

April 15, 2012

In what could be an underwater gold mine, Orlando-based Darden Restaurants plans to create the world’s largest lobster farm in Malaysia, allowing it to sell the crustaceans in Asia and supply them to its chains such as Red Lobster, according to a story in the Orlando Sentinel (April 9, 2012). The lobster farm would partially shield  Darden from rising seafood prices, while creating a new revenue stream. Lobster farming, a field in its infancy because it has been notoriously difficult, could also keep prices lower for consumers but pose tougher competition for fishermen.

Darden plans to  build the 23,000-acre production facility, which will employ 12,000 workers and eventually churn out 40 million pounds of lobsters each year. That’s about $1 billion worth.

Darden says it will take a while to get to that point — at least 2029. It will take several years to start producing food and at least a decade before lobster sales have a big impact on the company’s bottom line. “There’s a growing world demand for lobster products of all types,” says Darden’s VP of Purchasing and Supply Chain Innovation. The project, which will take an investment of $650 million, will be Darden’s “crown jewel” of environmentally friendly seafood production.

But as we noted in this blog just a few days ago (with regard to Delta Air Lines’ plans to buy a jet fuel refinery), vertical integration (Ch.11) moves most companies outside their core competencies. And lobster farming is a tough business for any company to master. Lobsters take a long time to mature and consume a lot of food. They also cannot make the trip all the way from Malaysia to the US alive.

Discussion questions:

1. Why is Darden venturing outside its expertise in restaurants (its chains also include Longhorn Steak, Olive Garden, and Bahama Breeze)?

2. What other restaurant or fast-food chains have successfully vertically integrated? How and why?

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