QSR has been reporting on the largest companies in the quick-service segment for nearly 15 years. For many of those years (now more than a decade), we’ve also delivered a top-level ranking called the QSR 50 each August.

The QSR 50 is a ranking of the most successful quick-service and fast-casual companies in the country. The brands are ranked based on their domestic systemwide sales, and we also report average unit volumes, unit counts, franchised unit counts, and in-depth analysis of every chain listed. It’s an all-out horse race to the finish, with companies like McDonald’s, Subway, and Starbucks jockeying for top position. That No. 1 spot has always been held by McDonald’s, a company that boasted nearly $33 billion in U.S. sales on the most recent QSR 50.

In 2012, QSR is looking beyond the borders of the U.S. While the $167.8 billion domestic quick-serve industry is nothing to sneeze at, we recognized that the segment has become increasingly international. Just last year, for example, Subway, the Milford, Connecticut–based sandwich company, became the biggest restaurant company in the world. It easily dwarfed both global fan favorites Starbucks and McDonald’s with its more than 35,000 restaurants.

In addition, one of the industry’s largest players, Yum Brands International, announced that it was reorganizing its $15 billion business to focus more on India. The company already made notable inroads into China and in 2010, the India business surpassed its 100th KFC, with strong unit growth and excellent unit margins. In addition, Pizza Hut is in 34 Indian cities with 175 restaurants.

Subway’s international explosion, Yum’s reorganization, and many other similar moves by the industry’s biggest brands were all signs. The QSR 50 was only telling a portion of our industry’s story. Beyond our borders, there was a world of opportunity. Our readers were recognizing it, and this issue is QSR’s first foray into calculating just how large those opportunities are.

The February 2012 issue is the debut of the Global 30. It’s meant to be a guide to international expansion for domestic companies looking to grow, as well as a directory of the world’s strongest brands for potential international franchisees looking to tap into a perfected system.

Like our domestic list, the Global 30 ranks quick-serve and fast-casual companies by systemwide sales. For the international list, however, the sales are only from non-U.S. units, and the companies are all U.S.-based.

This year, the top position belongs to McDonald’s, the Oak Brook, Illinois, burger concept that has about 1,300 stores in China alone. The company continues to leverage its international presence to help its U.S. performance, and has even shared menu items among its U.S. and international markets, which increases efficiency.

That type of streamlining resulted in $44.9 billion in international sales, and an average unit volume at an estimated value of $2.4 million.

Perhaps the most surprising international fact about the reigning quick-serve champ is the country where it has the highest number of stores outside the U.S. Japan is home to more than 3,302 stores—the most of any country, not including the U.S.

Originally, when QSR set out to gather the Global 30 data, we did it the same way we did the domestic numbers. We offered brands the opportunity to report their own figures in an online submission form that readers can find in the online version of this story.

As with most things related to international expansion, it became quickly apparent that there would be complications. Brands were either hesitant to report their international systemwide sales or felt they did not have enough units outside the U.S. to compete with the likes of the brands mentioned before. As a result, QSR began researching the numbers on our own.

We combed through hundreds of pages of financial reports from the brands listed in the domestic QSR 50 to track down numbers some of their communications executives either couldn’t find or didn’t want to share.

That research proved more rewarding, and the Global 30 began to take shape.

Through our research, we found enough data to make sound estimations. For example, Yum’s fried chicken concept KFC has a strong international presence with 3,244 stores in China. The company earned $14.7 billion in systemwide sales in 2010 and reported 11,798 units outside the U.S. From there, we used that data to estimate that KFC’s international AUV was about $1.2 million.

In other cases, we had to rely on the data collected for our original QSR 50. While not ideal, this proves the need for this type of report in our industry. Domestic figures are easy to come by from either companies themselves or third-party analysts. But gathering international stats can often feel like the wild west of research reporting.

As a result, there are several places noted in the chart on Page 54 that denote these types of estimations. For the figures marked with a #, QSR used the domestic AUV figures we had from the traditional QSR 50 because the company was not disclosing the information, the financial reports were not publicly available, and more detailed estimates could not be made.

This is the case in nine of the 30 chains listed in the accompanying Global 30 chart. Beyond No. 30, the international presence was either too small to report or all international units were on U.S. military bases. As a result, we reported the strongest brands, but not all of the brands with international stores.

QSR would like to continue to report this type of data next year. However, we need your company’s help. Since we understand we are the first to ask you for such information, we’ve developed an online submission process that will be open throughout the year. As new stores are added to your systems outside of the U.S., please visit QSRmagazine.com/Global30 to add or update your company’s information.

Each quarter, we will update the document for online visitors.

By creating a living document, we’re hoping QSRmagazine.com becomes your source for reliable international development news and stats, the same way it is for domestic research and headlines.

We anticipate that our new Global 30 report will gain the same type of industry interest as our domestic QSR 50 ranking, and you’re witnessing its debut. We’re looking forward to seeing your sales numbers, AUV, and unit counts roll in between today and February 2013.

But, for now, please take your time with the ranking by clicking here. It’s full of wonderful stats on companies you can expect to see from Detroit to New Delhi in the near future.

Denise Lee Yohn: QSR's Marketing Guru, Finance, Growth, Story, McDonald's, Subway, Yum! Brands