To lower their production costs and tap new swaths of customers, many American companies are now making huge investments abroad. Investors who want to benefit from global growth without straying too far from familiar names should keep a close eye on big blue chips' increasingly international operations.

PepsiCo (NYSE: PEP) recent devoted $250 million more to its Vietnamese operations. It's already been building two new plants in the country, and now PepsiCo will use the additional funds to boost production capacity and beef up distribution. Rival Coca-Cola (NYSE: KO) isn't ignoring the country, either, upping its investment there to $400 million this year.

According to JPMorgan data, consumer spending in emerging markets has begun outpacing the U.S., and their populations are growing at much faster clips. Even the existing headcounts are compelling. According to census data, Vietnam is the 13th most populous nation, home to 90 million people, topping the U.K. and Germany. And with 6.5% estimated GDP growth for 2011, Vietnam falls just below India and China, and ahead of Russia and Brazil.

Flexibility matters
PepsiCo also has a bit of an edge over competitors such as Coca-Cola, because while Coke focuses mainly on beverages, PepsiCo is a major player in both drinks and salty snacks. It's thus able to offer two kinds of treats to global consumers.

The value in a broader line of products is evident when you look at other diversified companies such as Yum! Brands (NYSE: YUM), which operates KFC, Taco Bell, and Pizza Hut. Yum!  can choose how heavily it promotes each of those franchises in various nations, according to how the locals receive them. McDonald's (NYSE: MCD), meanwhile, has little but its flagship name to offer. In fiscal 2009, Yum! sported roughly 10,000 units in emerging markets, while McDonald's sports around 5,400.

Yum!'s distribution differs domestically and internationally:


Total U.S. Units in 2009

Total Int'l Units in 2009

Pizza Hut



Taco Bell






Data: Yum! Brands.

While KFC is the third-most prevalent Yum! business in the U.S., it's the top one internationally, especially in China. In contrast, Taco Bell, popular and lucrative in the U.S., doesn't have a major global presence.

However they go about it, whether with multiple offerings or greater focus, there's great opportunity abroad for American companies.

Related Foolishness: