In an effort to save face in the wake of recent drama and declining sales, Subway has been announce a major brand transformation that takes place in the stores, the phone app and on the menu. But based on the initial reviews, the new changes have failed to win over customers.
A food critic for the New York Post called them newly launched sandwiches “just as nasty as the old ones”, while a review in the Washington Post focused on the lukewarm execution of the new and improved customer experience, pointing to uninspired ingredient combinations and staff who still don’t know how to make the newly launched menu items.
Even the sandwich chain’s franchisees — looking to regain their footing with this rebranding effort — are less than thrilled with the results of Subway’s “biggest menu rehaul in history.” According to a West Coast operator who spoke to us on the condition of anonymity, the menu upgrades Subway has rolled out are nothing but smoke and mirrors. A look behind the scenes reveals an even more disappointing picture of the struggling chain.
The Eat Fresh Refresh was a failed job
At the heart of the Eat Fresh Refresh were Subway’s “new and improved” ingredients, some of which were used to make the new subs: Turkey Cali Fresh, Steak Cali Fresh, Subway Club, and All-American Club. The chain claims that their “new” bacon is crispier, the “new” turkey and ham is thinly sliced, and the “new” steak is thicker and juicier. But according to our internal source, the changes were nothing more than minor tweaks to existing ingredients.
“Our turkey may be cut thinner now,” says our source, “but it’s exactly the same turkey we used before.”
The Subway operator says the company’s thinking behind cutting their ingredients “deli-thin” was that it would change the look of the subs. ‘Of course optics are important, but we have to pay for them. Our labor has increased.’
Other innovations, such as the addition of mozzarella, rotisserie chicken and roast beef (which, according to the Washington Post, isn’t even available yet), are a simple resurrection of popular ingredients previously scrapped from the menu. “A year ago we had rotisserie chicken on the menu and it did well before being cut,” says our source. “It’s back on the menu now, and that’s a revolution?”
The menu refresh was announced about eight weeks before the rollout, the operator says, confirming the statement from North American business unit president Trevor Haynes that the upgrade wasn’t something “we thought about on a Monday and we thought about on a Friday.” delivered”. However, Subway seemed to have come up with the refresh idea first, then tried to reverse engineer the changes that should have been at the heart of it.
“They announced it 8 to 10 weeks ago but kept adding more stuff to the revamp. It felt like they came up with the idea of a revamp and thought, ‘What can we add to this?’ every week,” says our source.
Thousands of free sandwiches have not been claimed
But perhaps the biggest disaster was the chain’s big sub-giveaway that accompanied the big new menu rollout. Subway announced it would be giving away one million free sandwiches to the first 50 customers at each of its locations on July 13. And while the promise of free food is usually a big draw for fast food restaurants, it seems Subway couldn’t give away their planned number of free sandwiches…because customers just didn’t want them.
According to our source, who operates multiple Subway locations and communicates regularly with fellow affiliates, the average number of free sandwiches given away was a meager 20 per location.
“There were a few stores that had as many as 50 giveaways, but honestly most of the stores were able to give 10 to 20,” says our source. “I’ve heard that from at least 100 franchisees.”
Our source says that before the launch, the thought was that the sandwiches would “bring people back to Subway’s restaurants that look good, operationally sleek, and have this new product that people will be excited about.” But the company reportedly tried to downplay the intent behind the giveaway when it became clear it was a failure.
“Then the party line changed. They said the giveaway was just a small part of this big change and it wasn’t even a commercial piece, it was a PR piece.”
Still, even as a PR stunt, the free sandwiches hurt the already struggling operators. Subway made up for the ingredients for the million-subscription campaign, but the labor costs in an already tight labor market ended up on the shoulders of the franchisees. “They paid $1.60 cents per sandwich, which is the cost of ingredients, but the labor costs and all other costs were borne by the franchisees.”
Disappointing first returns
This isn’t the first time operators have said the company’s promotional deals are hurting their bottom line. A similar complaint was made public in 2020 when an investigation found that: as many as three quarters of US franchisees opposed the 2-for-$10 Footlong deal, which would “simply double their losses” on an already unprofitable $5 Footlong. according to Restaurants, the company had “done little to explain to operators why the offering is needed and whether they can make money from it.”
The Eat Fresh Refresh appears to be an equally unprofitable venture, and our source states that returns have been low since the rollout. “The operators started to ask: if we give away half a million sandwiches on Tuesday, how many were sold in the days after? [The rate of] come back and buy [the new sandwiches] was almost zero. It doesn’t get stuck in people’s minds.”
Subway did not immediately respond to our request for comment.
Look for more at:
And don’t forget to Sign up for our newsletter to get the latest restaurant news straight to your inbox.