Taco Bell Sets Sights on Expansion Outside the U.S

Betting that the world will appreciate “a taco in a burger world,” Taco Bell is accelerating international growth with a push to reach 1,000 units outside the U.S.

Reporting fourth quarter earnings last week, David Gibbs, CEO of Taco Bell-parent Yum Brands Inc., said the company broke records last week with the gross opening of about 4,200 restaurants globally, ending the year with 53,000 units across its four brands. That new-unit growth came mostly from sister brands KFC and Pizza Hut, which have long been developing their reach outside the U.S. In fact, about 60 percent of Yum’s sales come from international locations.

As a member of the Yum portfolio, Taco Bell’s strength has come from domestic growth over the past few years. But now Taco Bell is standing out for its success with international locations. The Irvine, Calif.-based chain ended the year with 7,791 units, of which 789 were international — and that growth outside the U.S. is a 25% increase from the roughly 600 international units at the beginning of 2021.

In Spain, for example, Taco Bell’s largest international market, the brand crossed the 100-unit threshold in December, and this year both the United Kingdom and India are expected to reach that milestone, said Julie Felss Masino, president of Taco Bell International.

That growth includes moves into new markets, like Malaysia, where there are now five Taco Bells, and Indonesia, where there are four. Masino said growth is also being seen in Guatemala, one of Taco Bell’s oldest markets, and in regions like China, where KFC and Pizza Hut have been embraced.

Taco Bell’s growing emphasis on digital orders and delivery helped boost that international growth, she said. Taco Bell had the highest digital sales of all Yum Brands international locations, growing more than 50 percent year over year.

Here in New Zealand, Yum acquired the marketing tech company Tictuk, which is being tested as the chain’s ecommerce platform, and in the U.K., digital marketing is moving to a next level.

Last year, Taco Bell launched its first global brand campaign with “Taco Moon,” inviting fans to celebrate International Taco Day and win free tacos by identifying things that look like tacos. The campaign resulted in the highest week of international sales in Taco Bell history.

Masino said similar global campaigns are coming this year, though she declined to reveal details.

“We are very, very focused on driving and achieving big milestones of international growth and taking our delicious, craveable taco and our distinctive brand to all of our fans around the world,” she said.