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A two-story Arby's location in Saudi Arabia

Inspire Brands eyes further overseas expansion as it opens its 10,000th international restaurant

Dunkin’ and Baskin-Robbins are its main brands outside the United States, but Arby’s and Buffalo Wild Wings have growing presences and Jimmy John’s is on the way

Inspire Brands just opened its 10,000th international restaurant and the Atlanta-based company sees lots of potential for more.

“10,000 stores is a lot, but we’re still 6th or 7th, probably, relative to some of our peer groups,” said Michael Haley, president and managing director for the international division of Inspire, which owns Arby’s, Dunkin’, Baskin-Robbins, Buffalo Wild Wings, Jimmy John’s, and Sonic Drive-In.

Only those first four chains have any presence outside the United States, and most of the 10,000 are Dunkin’ and Baskin-Robbins, but Jimmy John’s recently announced plans to enter Canada and Central America, and Haley said the chain would be adding a line of hot sandwiches for that expansion.

Competitors with larger overseas holdings include Yum Brands, whose subsidiary KFC alone has more than 25,000 locations abroad, Subway, with around 37,000, and McDonald’s, with around 27,000.

Inspire’s 10,000th international location is a Dunkin’ in Lelystad, The Netherlands, operated by Jordan Benelux Holding B.V., which has 55 Dunkin’ locations in the Netherlands and another 25 in neighboring Belgium.

Arby’s and Buffalo Wild Wings have significantly smaller international footprints than Dunkin’ and Baskin-Robbins, with Arby’s just passing 200 locations — mostly in Canada, Puerto Rico (which Inspire counts as international), and Turkey — and Buffalo Wild Wings nearing 100 with its largest overseas markets being India, Mexico, and the United Arab Emirates. 

Most of Inspire’s overseas locations, around 5,300, are in the Asia Pacific, particularly South Korea, with around 2,000 locations, and Japan, with about 1,000 units. They’re also approaching 1,000 units in India.

Another 3,800 or so are in Europe and the Middle East and around 900 are in the Americas — Dunkin’ has around 200 units in Colombia and another 100 in Chile, the parent company said.

All told, Inspire has restaurants in around 56 countries, Haley said.

“It’s quite a wide spread, but it gives us a lot of diversity,” he said.

Inspire Brands, which is a privately held company, gained its substantial international presence with the purchase in late 2020 of Dunkin’ and Baskin-Robbins. Since then Dunkin’s average unit volumes overseas have doubled and its number of units has grown by more than 20%, Haley said.

Of course there are challenges to operating overseas, but also a lot to learn that can be taken home.

“The U.S. is killing it with drive-thrus,” Haley said. “I don’t really have as many drive-thrus, but I have a really good delivery business.”

The Dutch and Belgian locations are all cashless — something domestic locations could possibly learn from.

The menus of the overseas locations tend to be around 80% the same as American ones.

“These are U.S. brands, so we don’t want you to go to Saudi and be like, ‘That’s nothing like the U.S.,’” Haley said.

But the other 20% is “innovated as needed.”

For example, Arby’s in Saudi Arabia obviously doesn’t have bacon because of the Muslim ban on pork, but the brisket over-performs there.

“Arby’s has better food than people realize and what we’re able to do internationally is have an environment that matches the food,” Haley said. That means some two-story locations, more greenery, and other upscale design elements.

Also, Arby’s needed to educate Saudi customers about what roast beef sandwiches are, so the digital menu board shows “stacks” that illustrate what ingredients are on the sandwich.

Incidentally, Arby’s was brought to Saudi Arabia by Shahia Foods, which is also a Dunkin’ franchisee, and it plans to open new ones in the Gulf states.

And of course there are regional taste differences. Spicy wing sauces are particularly popular at the Buffalo Wild Wings in India, and when it comes to Baskin-Robbins, the top flavor in Japan is called Popping Shower and is made with mint ice cream studded with white chocolate and popping candy.

“That doesn’t translate everywhere,” Haley said, adding that the most popular ice cream flavor in the Middle East is Pralines & Cream.

“That’s not the case in the rest of the world.”

He said Latin American restaurants have more produce on the menu.

“We add tomatoes that might not be on a core sandwich in the U.S.,” but people expect them south of the border, he said, adding that domestic locations might consider adding tomatoes to sandwiches in communities with large Latin-American populations.

Haley’s not particularly looking to enter many new markets, but rather expand where they already are.

“Our primary focus tends to be with existing markets, and further strengthening them, and/or bringing another brand to a market where we already have a stronghold,” he said. That includes a Dunkin’ franchisee who has expressed interest in opening a Buffalo Wild Wings, he said.

“I think there’s a lot of white space for our brands in Western Europe in particular,” he added.

Inspire just has a small presence in China and that’s likely to remain the case in the short term.

“It’s not an immediate focus for us,” Haley said. “We’re probably more focused on India and other emerging markets.”

International locations now make up more than 30% of Inspire Brands restaurants.

Contact Bret Thorn at [email protected] 

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