Surge in online sales at Taco Bell helps Yum beat quarterly results

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Yum Brands, parent of fast-food giants KFC, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut, posted a smaller-than-expected drop in comparable sales and beat profit estimates Thursday, helped by strong online sales at its Taco Bell chain as COVID-19 pandemic fears kept customers at home.

Fast-food restaurants, including rivals McDonald’s and Chipotle Mexican Grill, have benefited from earlier digital investments, especially when dining rooms were closed at the height of the health crisis.

Yum Chief Executive Officer David Gibbs said online sales in the third quarter surged by over a billion dollars to $4 billion from a year earlier, setting a new quarterly record.

“Drive-thru demand skyrocketed this quarter as Taco Bell served over 30 million more cars.”

Taco Bell, which trounced third-quarter comparable sales estimates, remains the crown jewel in Yum’s portfolio, Cowen analyst Andrew Charles said in a note.

CEO Gibbs said while the upward online sale trend continues in the current quarter, pandemic-related uncertainty persists. He said there could be more challenges from fresh lockdowns.

Yum’s net income rose about 11 percent to $283 million, helped by $8 million in pre-tax income due to change in fair value of its investment in Grubhub, which would be acquired by European online food-ordering company Just Eat Takeaway.com early next year, once approved by regulators.

Yum sold its stake in food delivery firm Grubhub for $206 million, more than two years after making a $200 million investment to improve its delivery services.

Comparable sales fell 2 percent for the KFC owner in the quarter ended Sept. 30, compared with the estimate of a 3.74 percent slide, according to IBES data from Refinitiv.

Excluding items, Yum earned $1.01 per share, 21 cents more than expectations.

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