Arby’s Owner Beefs up With $1.5B Sonic Buy

Sonic is America's largest drive-in chain but has been facing intense pricing competition from bigger fast-food rivals.
Matthew HellerSeptember 25, 2018
Arby’s Owner Beefs up With $1.5B Sonic Buy

In another move to beef up its portfolio of restaurant brands, the owner of Arby’s has agreed to buy Sonic, America’s largest drive-in chain, for about $1.57 billion.

Inspire Brands already owns more than 4,700 Arby’s, Buffalo Wild Wings, and Rusty Taco locations worldwide. It is part of the restaurant investment portfolio of private-equity firm Roark Capital, which executed a turnaround at Arby’s after acquiring the sandwich chain in 2011.

In the deal announced Tuesday, Inspire will pay $43.50 per share for Sonic, a 19% premium to the stock’s Monday close. Including debt, the deal is valued at about $2.3 billion.

“Sonic is a highly differentiated brand and is an ideal fit for the Inspire family,” Inspire CEO Paul Brown said in a news release.

Sonic operates more than 3,500 restaurants and, as CNN Money reports, “is famous for its quirky ads and retro 1950s-esque drive-in locations. The company also recently joined the wacky fast food trend of launching odd new menu items with its pickle juice slushies.”

But Roark may be facing another turnaround challenge at Sonic, which has been struggling with intense pricing competition from bigger rivals such as McDonald’s and Wendy’s. Its same-store sales have fallen for at least the past two years.

“The deal is the latest in what’s been a rapidly changing landscape for the fast food and casual restaurants,” CNN said. “Struggling chains have decided to sell out or merge to become more competitive.”

In other recent deals, European food giant JAB bought fast casual sandwich chain Panera in 2017 for $7.5 billion while Burger King parent Restaurant Brands acquired Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen last year and Olive Garden owner Darden bought Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen.

Inspire’s purchase of Sonic “underscores that private equity players continue to have an interest in putting money to work in the restaurants sector following an active restaurants M&A environment throughout 2017-2018,” said David Tarantino, an analyst at Baird.

Sonic originally opened as a root beer stand in 1953 in Shawnee, Okla. Its first drive-in opened in 1959 in Stillwater, Okla.