There were two Subway restaurants [it seems weird calling them that, but ok, they serve food] in my neighborhood at this time last year. They were within about 4 blocks of each other, no worse than the distance between the two Starbuck’s. And they were what you’d expect from Subway, which is to say they were boring and a little sad. They had $5 foot long deals from time to time; good in a pinch; possibly a better option than a fried burger at the arches. All past tense. They’re both gone now and it’s not surprising. Subway sat back while places like Sweetgreen, Just Salad, Pret a Manger, by Chloe, (…seems like I could go on forever—fast casual has mushroomed) came on the scene and ate its lunch.
In an age where people are more mindful about their food and where it comes from, where eating fresh and supporting local business has renewed importance, Subway could have been killing it. They are literally everywhere—there are more Subways stores than McDonald's in the US. Instead, reeling from the shock of the Fogle fallout, they hung their hats on a promotion. Food innovations? Well, they started toasting sandwiches. Fresh produce delivered to stores daily from local sources? Nope. Expanded menus or flavor profiles? Nope. A lean toward healthy? Ironically, nope. Remember “Subway. Eat Fresh?” Instead, it’s genetically modified ingredients, bread with too much sugar, and highly processed meats loaded with preservatives and who knows what else. Talk about losing your way.
There are two ways out. Change nothing, keep selling discount sandwiches and die a slow death. Or, hit the reset button. The promise of a customized delicious sandwich on freshly baked bread loaded with fresh, locally sourced, preservative-free ingredients is very appetizing and couldn’t be more timely. Forget about a loyalty program. There are other things to fix first. Perhaps rethink partnerships; get down with organic, grass-fed meats; think about local farms. Take the excess sugar out of the bread. Try serving soups because soup and a sandwich is awesome. Stop chasing fads and get ahead of the real trends. Rethink your stores—don’t just give them superficial facelifts. Make it about the food and the experience. Yes, changes like these drastically affect the economics and logistics of your business. That’s the price of success. The change has to happen now, in 2025 it will be too late. There are too many other options out there, and they seem to be paying attention to the things we want. We don’t have to eat soy chicken and yoga mat.