* Dunkin' Donuts left California in 2002
* Competition in the state includes Starbucks, McDonald's
By Lisa Baertlein
LOS ANGELES, Jan 16 Dunkin' Donuts will open shops in Southern California in 2015, the popular coffee chain said on Wednesday, marking its long-awaited return to the state it left more than a decade ago.
Dunkin' Donuts customers are fiercely loyal and have been clamoring for it to re-enter California, which the company says is the No. 1 state for grocery sales of the chain's bagged coffee.
The company expects to open 150 to 200 shops in Southern California by 2020, said Nigel Travis, chief executive of Dunkin' Brands Inc and president of Dunkin' Donuts for the United States.
"We eventually plan to have more than 1,000 restaurants throughout the state," Travis said on a conference call with reporters.
The chain has been expanding westward in states such as Arizona, Nevada and Colorado.
Dunkin' Donuts, a unit of Dunkin' Brands Inc, said it is recruiting franchisees for Los Angeles, Riverside, San Diego, San Bernardino, Ventura and Orange counties.
Competitors in California will include national brands such as McDonald's Corp, Starbucks Corp and smaller chains such as Winchell's Donut House.
Dunkin' Donuts closed its final Golden State outpost in Sacramento in August 2002, citing infrastructure and timing issues.
This year Dunkin' Donuts plans to open 330 to 360 net new units in the United States, an increase of 4.5 to 5 percent.
Shares in Dunkin' Brands were unchanged at $34.02 in morning trading on the Nasdaq.