Red Lobster, the largest seafood restaurant chain in the United States, has appointed Kelli Valade as its new CEO.
Valade begins in her new role on Aug. 2, succeeding Kim Lopdrup, who plans to retire after 14 years at the helm.
Valade comes to Red Lobster from Black Box Intelligence where she served as president and CEO since 2019. Prior to joining Black Box Intelligence, Valade spent over 22 years at Brinker International, including most recently serving as brand president for international chain Chili's Grill & Bar, responsible for more than 80,000 employees and 1,600 restaurants.
"When I announced my plan to retire, I promised our people we would recruit an outstanding new CEO to lead Red Lobster to even greater success over the next generation, and I absolutely believe Kelli is that person," said Lopdrup.
"Her experience and deep industry insights coupled with her integrity and commitment to fostering a purpose-driven culture are the perfect fit as we begin this new chapter. I have never been more excited about Red Lobster's future."
"We are delighted to welcome Kelli as Red Lobster's next CEO," said Red Lobster Chairman Rittirong Boonmechote. "She has proven that she can lead large casual dining companies very successfully, and she brings all the key skills that we were hoping to find. She is the ideal leader to help fulfill our vision of making Red Lobster 'Where the world goes for seafood, now and for generations.'"
Last August, Thai seafood processing heavyweight Thai Union upped its stake in the US restaurant chain, positioning itself as its leading shareholder as part of the the company's bigger plan to expand the chain into Asia.
Asian expansion is a big goal for Thai Union, which has aggressively sought vertical integration of its business over the last few years.
Red Lobster already has branches in China, Japan, Malaysia and the Philippines, and with new food and beverage expertise in the form of the fellow shareholders Thai Union brought in with this deal, the company is well positioned to take advantage of Asia's blossoming middle class at a time when western economies are battling to come to terms with COVID's sweeping devastation.
While Thai Union executives gave few details away on where expansion in Asia would take place, they made it clear that Asian growth would add value and future earnings to Red Lobster.