Chick-Fil-A Is Investing $1 Billion In International Markets

Chick-fil-A is booming in the United States. QSR reported that the famed maker of chicken sandwiches was the third-biggest fast food restaurant in America by sales as of 2021. It was also the most popular fast food chain among teens in a 2022 Piper Sandler survey. Chick-fil-A's sales are particularly striking when you consider that the chain has under 3,000 locations in the US. While that may sound like a big number, it's significantly lower than most other major fast food hubs. Last year, Chick-fil-A ranked 18th on QSR's list of fast food chains with the most U.S. locations.

The chain doesn't have many stores abroad, either. Unlike many competitors, Chick-fil-A is only available in the United States, Canada, and Puerto Rico. That's about to change, though. As CEO Andrew Cathy recently told The Wall Street Journal, the company plans to spend $1 billion to establish a presence abroad in the coming years.

Chick-fil-A's previous attempts to expand internationally have largely fallen flat. In the late '90s, it opened several locations in South Africa — but left the country after five years of limited success. In 2019 the franchise tried again, launching its first location in the U.K., despite protests from LGBTQ groups. Less than 10 days later, a spokesperson for the shopping center that housed the restaurant announced that the lease would not be renewed. An Edinburgh pop-up shuttered in January 2020 after just a few months, though the brand maintained that the location was always supposed to be temporary.

Chick-fil-A's international expansion comes with a plan

Despite previous setbacks, Chick-fil-A has a plan for its new international expansion. The brand has a bigger presence than it did when it first ventured into Africa, and it appears to no longer support political causes directly. It also seemingly adjusted its priorities for expansion. When Chick-fil-A arrived in South Africa, it was following the advice of Coca-Cola's former president, Donald Keough, according to The Atlanta Business Chronicle. The idea was to capitalize on the small presence of American fast food restaurants there. Meanwhile, European locations like France were meant to come later.

Andrew Cathy explained to The Wall Street Journal that now Chick-fil-A is specifically looking to open in Europe and Asia, particularly in densely populated areas where economic conditions are favorable and chicken is popular. After all, rivals like KFC have found success abroad. As of 2022, KFC had 23,842 international locations — compared to just 3,918 in the US. The Asian market is particularly lucrative, with 25% of the company's sales coming from China and 11% from other Asian countries.

Asia accounts for over $33 billion in fast food chicken sales. Popeyes announced plans to move into the country, too. Chick-fil-A hasn't revealed how many stores it plans to open, but the focus on Europe and Asia is only the beginning. The company intends to expand into five international markets by 2030. While international locations will still offer waffle fries and chicken sandwiches, they might offer local menu variations, too.