PizzaExpress has announced the acquisition of its franchise partner in China, PizzaExpress (Hong Kong) Limited.
The company will now take full control of all 27 restaurants previously owned by the franchisee, alongside the site it already owns in Beijing. The franchised estate comprises 13 sites in Hong Kong (where the first site opened in 2001), 13 in Shanghai, and one in Shenzhen.
PizzaExpress hopes to open 15 to 20 new sites in the next year, and has stated plans to make its China business as large as its UK operation within 10 years.
Experienced consumer business manager Karen Zhao has been appointed chief executive of PizzaExpress's Chinese operations, and is set to work alongside the franchise partner for 12 months after the final transaction.
The move comes as part of the company's plans to grow its wholly owned estate across its core markets, in which it has identified China as a priority, thanks to what it states is a growing appetite for Western cuisine among Chinese consumers.
PizzaExpress also recently announced the acquisition of seven franchise restaurants in the United Arab Emirates in May, and was itself acquired by Chinese private equity firm Hony Capital in July.
Richard Hodgson, chief executive of PizzaExpress, said: "China represents a huge opportunity for PizzaExpress. Through our franchise partner, we have been operating successfully there for 14 years. Today's acquisition is an exciting development and will enable us to accelerate our growth in China."
Launched by Peter Boizot in London's Wardour Street in 1965, PizzaExpress now has over 400 restaurants across the UK, and also has branded sites in India, Indonesia, Kuwait, Qatar, Cyprus, Oman, Bahrain, Jordan, and Gibraltar.
In February this year it announced plans to open a new flagship, 146-cover UK site near London's Leicester Square.
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