With the London food and beverage market notoriously crowded and regional expansion already well underway for many chains, operators are increasingly looking further afield for their next phase of growth. With Pret A Manger’s international success story rolling on, Itsu raising £40m for its international plans, Wagamama signing the lease on its second New York site, Hawksmoor opening in the same city and Leon rumoured to be eyeing international markets, the future looks bright for Brits abroad.

So what is the recipe for successful international expansion for F&B operators?

We think there are three main ingredients:

Be considered…
A staged approach to market entry has been key to many brand’s international success, including Pret A Manger, who famously spent 8 years refining their proposition in New York before roll-out. With the pop-up trend still booming across much of Europe and the USA, testing concepts and brand traction has never been easier. As plans progress, building on-the ground teams becomes critical – successful international brands across sectors have invested in local teams (e.g. Starbucks in China, Hunter in USA) to drive local market insight and build brand awareness.

Be considerate…
Understanding local tastes is essential. Pret A Manger found that variety, seasonality and customisation were critical to US success, while perhaps unsurprisingly, the French only really want croissants and espresso for breakfast. Acknowledging cultural nuances has also been critical to Starbucks’ success in China, where green tea frappuccinos and red bean muffins have helped position the brand as a premium destination. This attention to local detail should extend beyond just the menu – for example, Pret A Manger has focussed on larger formats in the US and dining space in France, where solo lunches are rare. Similarly, both Wagamama, known for basement locations in the UK, and Starbucks, have acknowledged the need for highly visible locations abroad, as they build their brands.

Be yourself…
While it is important to understand and respect local market demands, the most successful operators have stayed true to their brand DNA by not changing core elements of their model. For example, Starbuck’s succeeded in selling quality coffee to the infamously tea-loving Chinese, not only through the close attention to cultural detail highlighted above, but with a simultaneous focus on educating consumers about the ‘Starbucks way’, offering ‘coffee education’ courses at many of their locations. Similarly, Pret A Manger stuck with their ‘made that morning’ model in the US, where punters are used to having sandwiches made at the counter. Again, through patient and consistent messaging of the benefits of their speedy model, Pret A Manger ensured that their strengths were not lost in translation.

While it sounds simple enough on paper, being yourself…but a bit different, is not straightforward and requires an in-depth understanding of the local customer and market landscape.

Sara Ghazi-Tabatabai