Photographer: Araya Diaz/Getty Images

Taco Bell Adding Thousands of Stores in International Push

  • Chain to focus global growth in China, Brazil, Canada, India
  • U.S. urban areas to add 300 restaurants over next five years

Taco Bell is running for the border.

Yum! Brands Inc.’s Mexican-themed restaurant chain will open at least 100 new locations each in China, Brazil, Canada and India during the next five years, according to a statement Thursday. The plan will help boost Taco Bell’s store count to 9,000 globally by 2022 from 6,650 now.

“We’re really focusing in on four big countries,” Melissa Lora, president of Taco Bell International, said in an interview. “They’re big economies, they’re youthful populations.”

While Taco Bell’s same-store sales handily topped estimates in the most recent quarter -- boosted by new items like a chalupa with a fried-chicken shell -- the U.S. market is becoming increasingly saturated. In April, industry same-store sales fell 0.9 percent, the fifth straight monthly decline, as fickle consumers increasingly turn to cheap food at grocery stores and the convenience of meal-delivery kits.

That’s why Louisville, Kentucky-based Yum, which also owns Pizza Hut and KFC, is turning to international markets to help fuel Taco Bell’s growth. It recently opened its first location in the Netherlands, and has said it will continue expanding in Spain, Guatemala, South Korea and the U.K. Other new markets include Peru, Romania, Finland and Sri Lanka, Lora said.

The global push is part of the chain’s previously announced goal of boosting annual sales to $15 billion by 2022 from $10 billion today.

Taco Bell also is adding units domestically, where it’s remodeling locations and building buzz with new urban eateries, some of which even serve alcohol. While it has just 11 of those city restaurants now, there will be more than 300 by 2022, the company said.

But it’s the international business that is driving growth. Indeed, Taco Bell’s international business may one day rival its U.S. operations, Lora said.

“One day it could be that,” she said. “We’re off to a good start in the countries we’re in.”

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