Subway Inches Its Way Back To The Top

The chain is hitting record sales after a concerted overhaul.

After what feels like a years-long battle to stay relevant in today's competitive fast food landscape, Subway has, it seems, begun to restore itself to its former glory. The chain reported an increase of 8.4% in sales at stores open at least one year in the third quarter of 2022, CNN reports, and generally reported "record-setting sales" across the last 18 months.

This is following the complete overhaul of the Subway menu, a move meant to streamline internal processes while offering guests new food. A whole new category of sandwiches called the "Subway Series" introduced 12 brand-new items in four categories: Clubs, Cheesesteaks, Italianos, and Chicken. It looks like the change in direction is starting to pay off.

Subway has struggled to keep its place in the fast food rankings

Though Subway declined to provide actual dollar amounts when discussing its sales figures with CNN, the 8.4% increase comes after a years-long downward slope for the brand. CNN notes that Subway's best year in sales was 2013, when it hit a record $12.3 billion, but by 2021 it was down to $9.4 billion worth of business. Still in the top 10 fast food chains, but slipping from the number-two spot (just behind McDonald's) to as low as eighth place by late last year.

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Not every change in Subway's operations has been as loudly advertised as its new sandwiches, however. Some tweaks seem to have been kept deliberately quiet, like the removal of the oven roasted chicken breast from the menu. And rather than continue to aggressively expand the restaurant's footprint as the company had in the past, Subway CEO John Chidsey announced that most unit expansions would happen overseas and not in America.

Subway is inching its way back up to the top

The competition in the sub sandwich market is fierce right now. Though Jersey Mike's 2,100 locations is small compared to Subway's 20,000 (domestic), it's currently the fastest growing chain in America. Not to mention the fact that Jimmy John's, Firehouse Subs, Capriotti's, Cheba Hut, and more are all coming up from behind as well. Americans love their sandwiches. Fast, easy, reliable sandwiches.

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Subway is unique for being 100% owned and operated by franchisees, though its relationship to those franchise owners hasn't always been rosy. There have been a lot of hurdles, including allegedly untenable fee hikes, the logistical complications of the recent menu changes, and then of course, the lingering specter of the tuna lawsuit, which will seemingly never go away. But despite those challenges, the new menu—which includes sandwiches called "The Monster," "The Champ," and "The Outlaw"—seems to be doing the trick. One owner of 65 Subway franchises told CNN that her customers were responding positively to the new food, as well as the new ordering system, which was designed with the goal of speeding up the process and get people their sandwiches faster. If sales continue to inch upward, it'll allow Subway to breathe a rare sigh of relief. For once, nothing seems to be going wrong.

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