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Keep an eye on these international chains likely to expand in the U.S.

7 min read

Restaurant and Foodservice

Just a few years ago, most Americans probably never heard of Nando’s or peri-peri sauce, but in the U.K., Nando’s was just as much of a household name as McDonald’s. The Portuguese grilled chicken chain actually originates from South Africa, and after gaining cult-like status in the U.K., Nando’s made a splash in the U.S. where it has had success in Chicago and Washington, D.C.

Of course, Nando’s isn’t the only international chain that’s seen success in the U.S. Datassential has traveled across the world in our coverage of restaurants overseas with our International Concepts Trendspotting Report, highlighting chains such as Tim Hortons and Freshii from Canada or grab-and-go concept Pret a Manger from the U.K.

The question is, what’s next? What international chains should the industry keep an eye on? We’ve covered several concepts that are poised for expansion, and with an improving economy and an ever-growing fast casual restaurant segment, it might be the perfect time for new chains to journey into the U.S. market.

Among the chains planning to expand to the U.S.:

  • The Majlis – Could camel milk become the next big non-dairy milk? The Majlis, a camel milk café from Dubai, hopes so. The three-unit chain with anything from camel milk pastry cream-filled eclairs to camelccinos and camel milk chocolate is looking at New York City as a “phase one” growth city.
  • Viena – In October, Viena, a multi-concept chain in Brazil, will open its first U.S. location in the MIA hotel in the Miami International Airport. From express units located in mall food courts to self-service snack kiosks, Viena’s versatility to adapt itself to suit different outlets could make it a strong competitor to take on home-grown brands. The Miami location takes after its original buffet concept and will offer salads, pasta, grilled meats, and oven-baked pizzas.
  • Baker’s DelightFollowing the Australian company’s success in Canada, where it operates as COBS Bread, Baker’s Delight opened three locations in Seattle, WA in 2007 with lofty plans for further expansion. While the Seattle locations have since closed, recent reports from the Daily Telegraph and The Australian have hinted that the company will give it another try, this time concentrating on the East Coast.
  • Mr Bean – This isn’t the comedic British sitcom character we’re talking about, but rather a soybean-centric food and beverage chain from Singapore that offers everything soybean, from mocha soy milk to soy ice cream and sweet and savory soy pancakes. Mr Bean operates in five countries, and has adapted its offerings to match each market’s tastes, such as adding green tea-flavored soy in Japan and mango in the Philippines. According to The Straits Times, Mr Bean plans to enter the U.S. market in the next few years.

Many international chains have opened U.S. locations recently and are looking to expand even further. Here are some names you’re likely to see more of in the coming years:

  • JollibeeJollibee, with its iconic red signage and jolly bee mascot, is the largest QSR chain in the Philippines and also operates more than 2,000 units across the world. The restaurant serves up Chickenjoy fried chicken and spaghetti as well as burgers and bun-less burger steaks. According to Business World Online, Jollibee has identified the U.S. as one of its main growth markets, hoping to expand its current 30-unit footprint.
  • Bonchon Chicken The crispy, Korean-style fried chicken chain is in 11 states already, with plans for further expansion. Bonchon has solidified itself in the international fried chicken market, offering cooked-to-order chicken with spicy or soy garlic sauce, along with various Korean staples such as bibimbap and chicken katsu.
  • Smoke’s Poutinerie Loaded fries and poutine (a classic Canadian dish of fries topped with gravy and cheese curds), are some of the fastest-growing menu items in the U.S. Poutine has quickly become an American favorite, increasing 600% on U.S. menus over the past four years, according to Datassential’s MenuTrends data. Smoke’s Poutinerie, which offers more than 30 types of poutine topped with ingredients from chipotle pulled pork to salsa and sour cream, has 100 locations in Canada and a handful in the U.S., particularly in California. Owner Ryan Smolkin hopes to eventually have as many as 2,000 locations in the U.S.
  • Max BrennerIt all started as a small specialty chocolate shop in 1996 in Australia and now Max Brenner is a global chain with both a full-service and fast-casual café concept. While there are four full-service locations in the U.S., it’s the café model, Max Brenner Chocolate Bar, that the company has targeted for expansion. At the café, you’ll find chocolate drinks and dishes such as chocolate chunk pizza, along with specialty coffee and tea. According to Foodservice Equipment & Supplies, CEO Sam Borghese aims to have 200 U.S. units in the coming five years.

While plenty of international chains have found success in the U.S. market, it’s a task easier said than done. Newcomers are entering an arena already chock full of competition, whether it’s vying for position in the growing fast-casual sector, or trying to squeeze into the already-saturated burger market. For many companies, finding a foothold here means being versatile in adapting to American likes and dislikes – many operators even revamp as fast casuals in the U.S. while still operating as QSRs in their home country. When Doña Tota, a Mexican chain specializing in authentic gorditas, entered the Texas market, operations had to be tweaked to meet American expectations for faster service. Spain-based 100 Montaditos, which serves 100 varieties of its namesake mini sandwiches, has had a turbulent entrance into the U.S. market. Montaditos are typically shared and eaten as snacks along with beer and wine in Spain, but the company told Nation’s Restaurant News they had to adapt to the fact that many Americans are unlikely to order alcoholic beverages earlier in the day. The company launched a new U.S. menu with larger “Mighty Montaditos” sandwiches, and continues to adapt its business model in hopes of expansion despite a recent bankruptcy declaration for its branches in Florida.

For Kaati Zone, an Indian chain specializing in kati (flatbread) rolls, it seemed as though the concept could be the perfect way to introduce quick-service Indian cuisine to Americans. Many publications, such as Business Insider and USA Today, have named Kaati Zone as an international chain that needs to come to the U.S. And Kaati Zone did venture into the U.S. market in 2013 with a location in New Jersey, only to shutter in what New Brunswick Today called a “sudden” closing that seemed unrelated to business (reviews were positive and neighboring tenants reported good foot traffic.)

For other chains considering U.S. expansion, perhaps it’s a question of tastes – would Americans want to try some of the flavors and concepts found in other parts of the world? To help answer that question, Datassential recently began to integrate consumer data into our latest issues of International Concepts. Another Spanish chain, MasQMenos, which serves a menu made mostly of cold tapas dishes, has early plans to open in Miami. Datassential tested dishes with more than 1,000 consumers, and found that 42% of consumers would try the chain’s stuffed peppers.

With all of the success international chains have seen in their home countries, it’s natural that more will be expanding into the U.S.

Maeve Webster is the senior director of Datassential, a supplier of trends, analysis and concept testing for the food industry. To purchase our International Concepts Trendspotting Reports, contact Webster at 312-655-0596 or email [email protected]


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