Wendy's will leave Japan by year's end

Wendy’s/Arby’s International is pulling out of Japan.

All 71 Wendy’s restaurants in the country will close by the end of the year because the chain was unable to reach an agreement for more development of its brand in Japan with Zensho Co., a large food retailer that controls franchisee Nihon Wendies, said Bob Bertini, spokesman for Atlanta-based Wendy’s/Arby’s Group, the nation’s third largest fast-food restaurant chain.

“This is not a reflection on our commitment to international growth,” Bertini said. Wendy's consolidated its international subsidiary in Atlanta in October and named Andy Skehan as senior vice president of Wendy's/Arby's International.

Bertini said the Wendy’s brand has been in Japan since 1980. Japan is the company’s second biggest international market; only Canada is larger. All Wendy’s and Arby’s restaurants located outside North America are franchised.

Bertini said the chain is looking for new franchisees or joint venture partners in Japan. There is no timetable for re-entering the market.

“Japan is an important player and this is something we will be pursuing,” Bertini said.

There is substantial opportunity in Japan, he said, where Burger King and McDonald’s also have operations.

Bertini said the impact of closing the 71 Japanese restaurants is not considered material, because the chain has 6,608 Wendy’s restaurants worldwide.

At the end of 2008, there were 350 Wendy’s and 9 Arby’s restaurants outside of the United States and Canada.

“International growth is part of our long-term strategy,” Bertini said Friday. “We have done a comprehensive analysis and we believe there is opportunity for more than 8,000 restaurants outside North America.”

The chain announced an agreement in the summer with Saudi Arabia-based Al Jammaz Group to build 135 dual-branded Wendy’s/Arby’s restaurants in nine countries in North Africa and the Middle East over the next decade. The chain also announced a development agreement with Kopitiam Investment to build and operate Wendy's restaurants in Singapore.

“We are focusing our development on high-priority markets based on demographics and competitiveness,” Bertini said Friday.