Subway

Nov 3, 2020 | Report Announcements

Subway is the largest sub sandwich chain by far with the 2nd largest QSR ad spend behind McDonald’s. Guests move along Subway’s iconic make line, customizing sub sandwiches by choosing bread carriers, meats, cheeses, veggies and condiments/dressings. Core brand equity: customization (made-to-order); interaction between sandwich artists & guests; sub sandwiches which include lots of veggies (Subway prides itself on offering more veggies than anyone); and bread baked in-house. Positioning is reinforced by taglines: “Subway, Eat Fresh” & “Good Food is Good for You” and its current “Buy 2 Footlongs, Get 1 Free” deal (based upon full menu prices) is better for margins than past $5 footlong deals and helps to support its new NFL campaign featuring Bill Belichick and NFL stars J.J., T.J. & Derek Watt. Innovation has ramped-up significantly in 2019 in an effort to increase the brand’s relevancy, moving Subway more in the direction of QSR sandwich players as opposed to fast casual sub sandwich competitors which are better known for quality than innovation. Notably, post-lockdown comps declined -40% to -50% initially in March 2020 (reflecting typical results for non-drive-thru brands) before steadily improving, helped by increases in delivery, loyalty & app mix such that some stores have reached 100% index y/y as higher checks have offset remaining -15% traffic declines. In any case, historical comps have steadily under-performed the segment average, mostly reflecting traffic declines. Given so many competing options for consumers (both up-stream and down-stream) that didn’t exist 10 years ago, Subway’s challenge is to carve a defensible niche in the sub sandwich category that excites its middle-class core with mid-tier pricing. In essence, Subway has been challenged to find a value equation that works with consumers and which is profitable for franchisees. Notably, while a shift to national advertising is intended to support national value offers, franchisees have been very vocal in their opposition to low price point/low profit deals. In conclusion, while it is difficult to assess how long it will take to reignite sustainable sales, the system benefits from the fresh look of a completely new management team, new digital initiatives and solid brand equity that hopefully can be leveraged to transform Subway into the Dunkin’ of the national sub chains.

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