Global brands in China

Foreign brands in China are popular, especially among the Chinese middle class and younger generation. The Chinese crave the “American lifestyle,” resulting in the popularity of brands such as Starbucks, Apple, and KFC. Purchasing American or European products is an indication of social status and wealth. What are the most popular global brands in China?

What are the most popular global brands in China?

Among the foreign companies with the most significant number of branches in China, we can find examples of US chains (KFC, McDonald’s, Starbucks), European chains (H&M, Carrefour, Sephora), as well as Japanese ones (Uniqlo, Lawson).

KFC in China


The most developed global chain in China is the fast-food chain KFC (肯德基). The first KFC restaurant in China was opened in 1987 in Beijing. In 1988, sales in the Beijing branch reached the highest amount among all the KFC restaurants worldwide. Since then, KFC has opened roughly 9000 restaurants throughout China.

The key to KFC’s success in China is serving local dishes as well as adjusting to the taste of the Chinese. For example, the chicken twister has some semblance of the Peking duck; there is youtiao, congee, soups, noodles, yuebing, and so on. Read further about KFC expansion in China.

Global brands in China – Starbucks


Starbucks (星巴克) is in second place. The first coffee shop opened in 1999; now there are around 6000 Starbucks branches in China in 230 locations. In 2019, a shop accommodating sign language users was opened.

It is important for foreign brands to adjust to new markets. Starbucks introduced to its menu in China a scone filled with red bean for example, which is not a popular pastry outside this region of Asia.

Lawson in China


The first branch of Lawson (罗森) was opened in China in 2016. The development of this Japanese convenience store chain is particularly dynamic. In just two years (2016-2018), it opened 1642 stores in China alone. Now there are nearly 5700 stores (over 2500 in Shanghai!), which makes it the second-largest market. In Japan, there are over 14,000 stores.

McDonald’s in China


McDonald’s (麦当劳) is less popular in China than its biggest global rival, KFC. McDonald’s entered the Chinese mainland market in the year 1990. The first restaurant opened in Shenzhen. 5000 McDonald’s restaurants in China serve one billion customers each year. The biggest McDonald’s branch in the world of its time opened in 1992 in Beijing. It contains 29 cash desks and can seat 700 people.

Just like KFC and Starbucks, McDonald’s introduced special menu items in China which are more suitable to Chinese taste, like spicy wings and Sichuan sauce. See how McDonald’s grew its business in China.

Other global brands in China

Other popular international brands in China worth mentioning:

Pizza Hut in China

pizza hut
  • 必胜客
  • pizza chain
  • the first branch opened in 1990
  • 3000 stores

The first Pizza Hut was opened in 1990 in Beijing. In 2023, the 3000th store was opened in Qinghuangdao in Hebei province. The newest store adopted a number of low-carbon technologies that go well with the environmental protection movement. Some Pizza Hut stores in China are intangible cultural heritage-themed, pet-friendly, game-themed, etc., to attract more customers.

7-Eleven in China

7 eleven
  • no Chinese name
  • convenience store
  • the first branch opened in 1992
  • around 2900 stores

The first 7-Eleven store in China was opened in Shenzhen in 1992. Most of them the stores are open 24 hours a day. Stores offer a wide range of food, including traditional Chinese steamed buns, as well as local beverages, candy, newspapers, and other convenience goods.

Burger King in China

burger king
  • 汉堡王 (“hamburger king”)
  • fast-food chain
  • the first branch opened in 2005
  • around 1300 stores 

Burger King was late to the game, launching its first store in Shanghai in 2005. It has far fewer locations compared to McDonald’s’ and KFC. Moreover, the menu is not that different from the menu in the US. Burger King is not as affordable as the other chains too.

Uniqlo in China

  • 优衣库 (“warehouse of excellent clothes”)
  • apparel retailer
  • the first branch opened in 2002
  • around 1030 stores

Uniqlo is a relatively affordable Japanese clothing brand. Its first store in China launched in Shanghai. There are over 90 stores in Shanghai and over 70 stores in Beijing.

Subway in China

  • 赛百味
  • fast-food chain
  • the first branch opened in 1995
  • around 660 stores

Subway launched in China only 5 years after Mcdonald’s, but it is not popular with Chinese consumers. The main reason is pricing, closely followed by the lack of meal options. It released a locally flavored sandwich, the Sichuan Spicy Chicken Sandwich. The expansion plan is to have at least 1500 stores in China by 2028.

H&M in China

  • 海恩斯莫里斯服饰
  • apparel retailer
  • the first branch opened in 2007
  • around 650 stores

Among the European chains, Swedish H&M has a high number of stores in mainland China. The brand also sells its products on Tmall, the most popular Chinese e-commerce platform. H&M mainly produces its garments in China, which facilitates the company’s development in this country.

Walmart in China

  • 沃尔玛
  • hypermarkets & groceries stores
  • the first branch opened in 1996
  • around 380 stores

In 1996, the first Walmart opened in China. In the following years, hundreds of them opened, but from 2016, 10-20 stores were closed every year. The very first shop was closed after 25 years. It is also worth mentioning that the decline of Wal-Mart’s China store business is not an isolated case as the e-commerce business grows rapidly.

Sephora in China

  • 丝芙兰
  • beauty retailer
  • the first branch opened in 2005
  • around 324 stores

Sephora is a French beauty brand, a part of conglomerate LVMH. To adjust to the Chinese market, Sephora does sales on, for example, June 18, which is a shopping day in China known as 618.

Häagen-Dazs in China

haagen dazs
  • 哈根达斯
  • ice cream shops and cafe
  • the first branch opened in 1996
  • around 218 stores

American ice cream brand Häagen-Dazs entered the Chinese mainland market in 1996 and today has over 200 stores in the country. The brand completely adjusts to the Chinese market. They manufacture unique variants of their products for Chinese customers, such as green tea ice cream or ice cream mooncakes in the limited edition for the Mid-Autumn Festival.

Carrefour in China

  • 家乐福
  • hypermarkets & groceries stores
  • the first branch opened in 1995
  • around 150 stores

Carrefour is another French chain on the list. Its first store in China was opened in Beijing. It had a good start, but in 2018 due to circumstances, Suning acquired a part of it. Between 2018 and 2022, the number of stores fell from 239 to 150.

Apple in China

  • 苹果 (“apple”)
  • electronics & IT
  • the first branch opened in 2008
  • around 45 stores

Apple brand entered the Chinese market in 2008, which was 8 years before Lawson. In comparison, it has „only” 45 stores throughout mainland China. However, it is the biggest number of Apple stores outside of the US, which also makes it impressive.

global brands in China chart

As you can see on the infographic, European brands do not have as many branches in China as American or Japanese ones on the top of the list.