Irvine-based Taco Bell Corp. recently hit the 100-restaurant mark in Spain, making that country the chain’s largest market outside the U.S.
Plenty more overseas spots are in the pipeline, as the largest restaurant chain based in Orange County moves ahead with plans to have 1,000 locations operating outside the country in the not-too-distant future.
That figure seems doable; Taco Bell has more than 130 spots in OC alone.
At the end of the 2021, it had 789 international restaurants—all franchised spots—and 7,791 owned and franchised restaurants in total. Areas of expansion include Asia, South America, New Zealand, India and the U.K.
About a quarter of Taco Bell’s international growth has taken place in the past two years. It has been accomplished under the watch of Julie Felss Masino, the current president of Taco Bell International.
Felss Masino ran much of the company’s operations following former president Brian Niccol’s departure to Chipotle in 2018, until the hiring of current president Mark King in mid-2019.
She replaced former Taco Bell International head Liz Williams, who left the company about two years ago to run locally based hair salon and products company Drybar.
The recent pace of international development at Taco Bell “unlocks accelerated growth, fueled by the benefits of scale, including supply chain advantages, as well as marketing and brand awareness,” Chris Turner, chief financial officer of Taco Bell parent company Yum Brand Inc., said in a recent investors’ presentation.
Taco Bell International showed a 50% year-over-year rise in digital sales in 2021, the most of any Yum Brands international division last year. Yum also owns KFC, Pizza Hut, and Irvine’s Habit Burger, among others.
Felss Masino credits the recent expansions to the taco brand’s growing digital channels and campaigns.
“Our international franchise partners and team members in Taco Bell restaurants around the world fuel the fire of our brand and are a huge testament to what we are building together,” she said in a Feb. 15 statement.
From exploring kiosk-based ordering in store to its Go Mobile concept developing digital order focused multi-lane drive-thrus, the franchise is running at the front of the industry stampede toward enhancing the digital restaurant experience. It opened its first digital-only spot in New York last April.
Despite challenges of workforce retention and supply chain shortages, system sales for Taco Bell were reported at $13.3 billion for 2021, up 13% from the previous year.
King has previously stated a goal of building companywide sales up to $20 billion annually.
Of note, drive-thru times improved in 2021, two seconds faster year-over-year compared to the average four-minute time.
The brand is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year and announced in January its nationwide taco subscription service dubbed the Taco Lover’s Pass exclusive to the app after a test run in Arizona last September.