Lobster is one of the world's last great wild foods. But wildness isn't exactly a cherished quality in the business world. So when the executives of Darden Restaurants, the owner of Red Lobster, Olive Garden and several other restaurant chains, were trying to think of a way to invest a few hundred million dollars, it makes sense that they fixed their sights on a bold new horizon of domestication: lobster farming.
Sandra Pendicini of the Orlando Sentinel reports that Darden Aquafarm, the result of years of R&D at Darden, will be the first commercial lobster fishery in the world when it opens in Malaysia over the next few years. Novelty doesn't come cheap. The construction of the 23,000 lobster farm is expected to cost about $650 million, about $300 million will come from Darden itself. (The rest will be underwritten by Darden's partners in the venture.) It will employ thousands of local people.
Not that Darden Aquafarm is going to be a charity. Indeed, it could ultimately prove a major cash cow for Darden. By the time it's fully operational, around 2029, it is planned to produce 40 million pounds of lobster a year. That could mean revenues in the billions of dollars. Instead of producing the big-clawed Maine-style lobsters everyone knows and loves, though, Darden Aquafarm will raise spiny, or rock lobsters, which are smaller.
At first, most of the shellfish produced at the farm will be sold to Asian restaurants and buyers. But over time, more and more of them will end up on the plates of diners at Red Lobster and other Darden restaurants.
Darden has been developing the idea for its lobster farm for years. Past attempts at lobster farming were hampered by the slow growth and voracious appetites of lobsters, which make them hard to raise profitably. Darden is banking on the idea that new technology and a big heap of cash will allow it to skirt those problems in Malaysia.