Jack in the Box divested 700-unit fast casual Qdoba for $305 million earlier in the year. Now, it appears the nearly 2,400-unit brand could also be on the move. Reuters reported Thursday that the chain is exploring options that could include a sale of the company, according to people familiar with the matter.
Per Reuters, Jack in the Box started talks with potential buyers this month, including private-equity firms. The sources added there is no certainty a deal would be reached.
The report sent the burger chain’s shares up more than 6 percent on the stock market Thursday afternoon, giving it a market capitalization of $2.3 billion—so the purported deal would not be a cheap one.
High price tags haven’t deterred recent M&A restaurant deals, however. Arby’s and Buffalo Wild Wings owner Inspire Brands forked up some $2.3 billion for Sonic Drive-In this past September. Inspire, backed by Roark Capital, spent $2.9 billion on 1,200-plus-unit Buffalo Wild Wings in February. Another recent restaurant move was the October $593 million sale of 766-unit Bojangles’ to Durational Capital Management LP and The Jordan Company, L.P.
Jack in the Box recently reported a mixed fourth quarter where adjusted earnings from continuing operations came in at 77 cents per share, which missed the Zacks Consensus Estimate of 83 cents. Total sales of $177.5 million beat the call for $174 million, but decreased 23.5 percent, year-over-year. Same-store sales gained 0.8 percent compared to the prior-year decline of 2 percent, driven by average check growth of 2.8 percent and offset by a 2 percent decline in transactions. Broken down, franchised units saw a 0.4 percent uptick in comps and company-run units climbed 0.8 percent. There were 276 corporate and 2,100 franchised units by quarter’s end as Jack in the Box continues to refranchise its system—an initiative that has taken it from an 80 percent split to more than 94 percent in the past 15 years.
Jack in the Box has also come under fire from its franchisee association in recent months. In mid-November, The National Jack in the Box Franchisee Association, which represents 95 franchise owners who operate about 2,000 restaurants, filed a complaint with the California Department of Business Oversight regarding Jack in the Box’s new financial restructuring strategy. They said Jack in the Box was altering how it handles 1,800 master-lease agreements with landlords. The company subleases those properties to franchisees.
According to a letter obtained by the franchisee group, Jack in the Box asked property owners in October to transfer their lease agreements from Jack in the Box Inc. into a newly formed subsidiary, Jack in the Box Properties LLC. “The intent behind filing this complaint is to protect the tenant rights of franchisees who have invested their life savings in these buildings,” said Dan Watkins, attorney representing the National JIB Franchisee Association, in a statement.
Chief executive officer Lenny Comma called the concern “perhaps fair, but unfounded.”
In October, the association called for Comma to step down and for the board of directors to replace the brand’s current leadership team. This came after the association had a majority vote of “no confidence” at its annual meeting in July.
The association has also railed for a new CMO (Iwona Alter stepped down more than a year ago), among other changes.