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The American Fast Food the World Loves: Top Global Brands

Carol Tice
SHANGHAI, CHINA - JULY 7: American donut chain Dunkin' Donuts now has 40 outlets around China, including 18 here in Shanghai, with ambitious plans to expand to 100 stores in China within the decade.  Shanghai is in the midst of what has been called "the donut wars," as Dunkin' faces competition from Krispy Kreme, Mister Donut, Donut King, and a host of other local shops, all for the morning palates of Shanghai's increasingly affluent young consumers.  What's not clear is whether sweet American-style donuts are popular in China, where morning breakfast generally consists of congee, or rice porridge, soybean milk, and maybe a plain, steamed bun.   Here, two men relax in the shade on benches outside a Dunkin' Donuts outlet.(Photo by Keith B. Richburg/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

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With the American economy still sluggish, many fast-food chains have focused recent expansion overseas.

After a growth spurt last year, there are more than 66,000 units of U.S.-based fast-food restaurants abroad just among the 10 largest chains, data from trade publication QSR magazine shows.

The fastest-growing major U.S. chain abroad is Subway, which added over 1,000 international units last year. Growth markets include Russia, Brazil, China, and United Arab Emirates.

Subway operates in 100 countries now, adding Suriname and Romania last year. The chain does substantial menu changes for individual markets, including going vegetarian in its India restaurants.

Hot on Subway's heels is Dunkin' Donuts, which opened more than 900 donut shops overseas in 2012.

Last year saw Dunkin's first shops open in India and Guatemala, and Vietnam is coming this year. Chile, Colombia, and Peru were growth markets last year.

In third place in the international-growth derby is KFC, which added nearly 700 restaurants abroad. Sales at its more than 4,200 restaurants in China floundered, in part thanks to a poultry-supply scandal, but the Yum! Brands division kept on growing overseas.

Leading the pack in international presence is -- no surprise -- McDonald's, which now has more than 18,700 international units.

McDonald's had a slow year in 2012 for international growth, though, growing by only 212 units, QSR reports. The UK and Russia were standout international performers last year for the Golden Arches.

As McDonald's story shows, if you've got a big enough lead on the competition, you don't necessarily need big growth to be the biggest global player.

Some of the biggest chains internationally didn't grow a lot in the past year, but still have the largest overseas store counts. Click here to see the top 10 fast-food chains with the most restaurants overseas.

Also on Forbes:

Why In-N-Out Heiress Lynsi Torres Isn't A Billionaire Yet

The Top 10 Fast-Growing Franchise Chains That Powered Through The Recession

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