Starbucks opened more new stores than McDonald's and Subway, the two biggest chains in the world, during the pandemic

  • Starbucks executives explained an aggressive growth strategy in an earnings call.

  • The coffee chain opened nearly 1,200 net new locations in 2021.

  • The chain is adding new stores faster than Subway and McDonald's.

Starbucks keeps growing its store count, and it's outpacing the only chains larger than the coffee giant: McDonald's and Subway.

As of January 2, 2022, Starbucks had 34,317 open stores across the world, just under 17,000 in the US. The number looks poised to keep increasing after years of steady growth from Starbucks. It added 484 net new stores the first quarter of 2022 and 538 the previous quarter. It added 1,173 net new stores in the fiscal 2021 year, and 1,404 in the 2020 fiscal year, according to end-of-year data provided by Starbucks.

There's no real end in sight for Starbucks' potential growth. The chain plans to open 2,000 net new stores in fiscal 2022, Starbucks said at the end of 2021. In a February earnings call, President and CEO Kevin Johnson addressed the question of opening new stores.

"As long as we keep delivering best-in-class profitability, return on investment, we're going to continue to lean in on building new stores and play the long game," he told investors in the first-quarter earnings call. Outside of the US, the growth is even starker. Starbucks added 1,200 new stores in China over the past two years, making up a fifth of the total in the country, CEO of Starbucks China Leo Tsoi said in the call.

"We are really in the early stages of these markets. And as we go wide, go deep, and go smarter, actually, our opening is actually helping us to build our success for the long term," Tsoi said about plans to continue adding to the chain's numbers.

McDonald's, which has over 38,000 worldwide locations, added nearly 1,000 new locations in 2020, CEO Chris Kempczinski wrote in his year-end letter to share holders, and 650 restaurants in 2021, executives said in the 2021 Q4 earnings call. In the same call, the chain announced plans to open 1,800 new restaurants in 2022.

Sandwich chain Subway has long held the title of fast-food chain with the most locations. It has nearly 40,000 locations across the world, but that number is slowly shrinking. Subway closed over 1,000 locations in 2019 and reportedly closed over 2,000 in 2021. The chain has disputed the exact number of closures without providing specifics.

Declining sales and closing stores put Starbucks in striking distance of surpassing the giant chain.

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