The Los Angeles-based company has signed a franchise agreement with Mumbai-based JMS Corporation Pvt. Ltd., a franchise group that also operates other U.S. brands, such as California Pizza Kitchen, Trader Vic’s and Hard Rock Café in India. The franchise group will open its first Pinkberry in Mumbai later this year.
Ron Graves, Pinkberry’s chief executive, said India offers the chain “a sizeable opportunity over time.” He added, “India is an attractive market given there are over a billion people there.” The company is not releasing details about the structure of the deal or JMS’s plans for growing the brand Graves said.
Pinkberry has been aggressively growing overseas during the past few years, and India is the 18th country in which it will be present. The 180-unit chain saw the opening of about 70 locations in 2011, about half of which were domestic and half international.
The first international location for Pinkberry opened in Kuwait in 2009, and the franchise group there operates eight locations. Most of the chain’s international growth has been across the Middle East, but Peru is also a hot market for Pinkberry, Graves said. The franchisee there has eight locations open after moving into that country just last year.
Some analysts contend that India will soon surpass China as a potential growth market for restaurants companies.
Starbucks is another company with sights set on India. The Seattle-based coffeehouse giant plans to have units open in Mumbai and Delhi before the end of the year in a joint-venture partnership with Tata Global Beverages.
Howard Schultz, Starbucks Corp.’s chair, president and chief executive, serves on Pinkberry’s board, and he co-founded the Seattle-based venture capital firm Maveron LLC, which made a $27.5 million investment in Pinkberry in 2007.
Graves, however, said Starbucks’ plan for India was not a factor for Pinkberry. The key was finding the right franchise partner for the yogurt brand, Graves said — particularly in a complex market like India.
Pinkberry has yet to find the right franchise partner for China, another attractive market that can be tricky, Graves said. “I think that will be a stumbling block for many companies planning to move into China,” he noted. “It’s all about who you partner with.”
Domestic growth for Pinkberry will also continue, according to Graves. The chain has units in 19 states, and franchise growth across the U.S. will focus on both filling existing markets and moving into new cities.
Graves declined to project how many locations are planned in the U.S. this year, but he said a “small fraction” of them would be company-operated locations in Southern California.