Subway has a new recipe for success: fewer stores and a bigger menu.
In early July, the 57-year-old sandwich chain introduced the Subway Series, a menu of 12 chef-developed sandwiches that can be ordered by name or number, like The Monster, which features steak, bacon, cheddar, green peppers and red onions on Italian bread with ranch sauce.
It’s a big change for Subway, which is known for letting customers build their own sandwiches. Trevor Haynes, Subway’s North America president, said the company saw the need to simplify after a growing amount of digital order data showed 50% of customers always build the same sandwich.
Haynes said the new sandwiches — winnowed down from hundreds of options — also highlight Subway’s upgraded ingredients, which arrived in U.S. stores last summer. That change helped Subway — which is privately held — achieve record sales in 2021.
It’s all part of a much-needed refresh for Milford, Connecticut-based Subway, which has been losing market share to fast-growing rivals like Panera and Firehouse Subs. Subway controlled 28% of the U.S. sandwich and deli market in 2021, down from 34% in 2017, according to Technomic.
Haynes, who joined Subway in 2006 in his native Australia, spoke with The Associated Press about changes at the chain. His answers have been edited for length.
What was behind the adoption of the Subway Series menu?
We tested this extensively in several markets across the U.S. The franchisees just found it was a great way for guests to go through the restaurant without having all the questions. It was just easier for the guest and easier for the sandwich artist to make the sandwich. Now, of course, if you want to have a turkey sandwich and you want to load it up with whatever you want to load it up with, you can absolutely do that. We’re not taking customization away. It is still there. But the guest today has told us that they want us to change. They want us to make it easier for them.
Subway had its best sales week since 2013 last year when it introduced its upgraded ingredients. How did the word get out so quickly?
The franchisees became very confident with it quickly. They started to see how their guests reacted to it when their friends and family came in and tried it. And that’s a big part of it. Within a franchised system, you need the franchisees to believe, engage and want it. This year, across May and June, we’ve broken that record two or three times since. And when we launched that program we put a lot of effort behind the media. We had Tom Brady, we had Serena Williams, we had Megan Rapinoe, Steph Curry, an all-star lineup. And that encouraged the franchisees to sit back and say, “Hey, we’re a big brand. These are big names. I better get behind this.”
Subway has closed more than 5,100 U.S. stores since 2017, and yet the company is posting record sales. Why?
I think when you look at the portfolio, where we may have had locations for 30 or 40 years, retail precincts change. What was the best mall in town 30 years ago may not be the best mall in town today. The general U.S. retail landscape is changing dramatically, so we’ve been moving locations and reconfiguring markets. There could be markets where we had three restaurants and we’ve reconfigured into one or two, but that one or two has a drive-thru or bigger floor space. Before, we were very focused just on restaurant count. Today we’re very focused on the type of restaurant that we have and really working with franchisees to relocate from some of those older locations to newer, more vibrant retail areas.
You worked for Subway in Australia and the U.K. before coming to the U.S. How do you think that overseas experience informs your work?
It does give you a different sense of, you know, just being more open to new ideas or different ways of thinking, having met with people from very different backgrounds. I think it’s been very helpful. You understand what works well in Subway and what may not work well in Subway. I think having that international experience just gives you a different way of looking and maybe a bit more of a broad perspective.
What’s your favorite Subway Series sandwich?
So it’s a chicken build with garlic, the Great Garlic. I absolutely love it. I like strong flavors.