Fast casual restaurant chain Chipotle Mexican Grill has signed a development agreement with franchise retail operator Alshaya Group to open restaurants in the Middle East.

This is the first-ever development agreement signed between Chipotle and Alshaya Group. It will allow Chipotle to speed up its international expansion efforts.

As part of this agreement, Chipotle Mexican Grill will work in partnership with Alshaya to open new restaurants in Kuwait and Dubai of UAE by early 2024.

After the initial expansion in the two markets, the restaurant chain will further expand across other regions in the Middle East.

Alshaya Group executive chairman Mohammed Alshaya said: “In announcing this exclusive partnership across the Middle East, we are proud to be Chipotle’s first and only franchise partner, as we continue to enhance our portfolio by bringing world-leading brands to our customers across our markets.”

Currently, the American chain of fast-casual restaurants owns and operates a total of 33 international locations in Canada, 15 in the UK, six locations in France and two in Germany.

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Chipotle said it will also add three more UK locations to its international portfolio later this year.

Meanwhile, Chipotle has more than 3,200 restaurants in North America and is further aiming to register 8% to 10% growth annually in the region, in the near future.

Over 255 new Chipotle restaurants are expected to open this year in North America, with a long-term target of opening 7,000 locations.

Chipotle Mexican Grill CEO and chairman Brian Niccol said: “Leveraging Alshaya’s market expertise will enable us to quickly gain access to these vibrant economies.

“We are excited to offer guests in the Middle East our responsibly sourced, classically-cooked real food, and look forward to furthering our purpose to cultivate a better world in this new territory.”

Earlier in April, Chipotle collaborated with Canadian food delivery platform SkipTheDishes to expand its reach across Canada.