Itsu is to open its first franchise UK franchise site later this year, as well as its first in Europe, as the business looks to expand its footprint in this country and internationally, chief executive Ganan Kanagathurai has told MCA.

It will open units in Leicester and Reading, as well as a site within Brussels Airport – the latter in partnership with HMS Host, with more to “hopefully” come next year.

Kanagathruai said that while Itsu had been focusing more of its time on opening stores outside London over the past three or four years, this thinking had been accelerated during the pandemic.

“It would take a brave person to invest in zone one at the moment,” he said. “But that doesn’t mean there aren’t lots of growth opportunities outside London.”

He said Itsu was looking at opening in market towns and town and cities outside the capital where the propensity to consume Asian food, and make more adventurous food choices, was highest.

Market mapping carried out by the operator, alongside third parties, has suggested the brand has the potential to add a further 150 sites to its estate in the UK, explained Kanagathruai. In terms of new openings, he said that these would be a mix of franchise and company-owned and operated stores in the UK, but franchise-only sites internationally.

He said the business had been working on a franchise model for several years and had been very selective about who it works with “in term of finding the right individuals and organisations that see the world like us, have the same cultural views, and care for their people like we do”.