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Why Jersey Mike's Is Drawing Customers Away From Panera & Subway

The booming sandwich chain continues to grow stronger as its biggest rivals lose market share.

In the competitive world of sandwich chains, Subway and Panera Bread have long dominated their peers in terms of sales and popularity. However, new data indicates that a booming rival is beginning to chip away at their reign and draw more customers to its own restaurants.

Consumer Edge, a provider of global consumer data insights and solutions, recently analyzed debit and credit card transaction data to see where popular sandwich chains stand in 2024—and its findings were very illuminating. The data showed that Subway and Panera are still the country's first- and second-largest sandwich chains in terms of market share, which is the percentage of total sales that come from a specific company in an industry. However, they're not as far ahead of their peers as they used to be.

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Subway storefront
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According to Consumer Edge, Subway and Panera have lost about 4% of their market share since 2019, while America's third-largest sandwich chain by market share—Jersey Mike's—has grown its share by 7% over the same period.

In other words, Jersey Mike's is claiming a larger proportion of sandwich sales than it used to, while Panera and Subway are claiming lower percentages. This indicates some consumers may be shifting away from Subway and Panera as Jersey Mike's grows even more popular.

"It's not as if their growth is falling off a cliff, but it just might be a matter of the [sandwich] concept being saturated and then companies like Jersey Mike's taking share away," Michael Gunther, vice president and head of insights at Consumer Edge, tells Eat This, Not That! in an exclusive interview.

Panera Bread exterior
JHVEPhoto / Shutterstock

As for why Jersey Mike's market share is on the rise, Gunther believes "part of it just has to do with the fact that they're expanding."

Expansion can provide a huge boost for a company like Jersey Mike's since it makes the brand more widely available and introduces it to potential new customers. The chain has been growing at an undeniably breakneck speed lately, with 350 locations expected to open in 2024 alone.

CEO Peter Cancro told QSR Magazine last November that the company expects to open roughly the same number of stores in 2025 and then complete 400 to 450 openings in 2026. After that, Jersey Mike's is aiming to grow its footprint between 13% and 15% annually. This ambitious expansion pipeline could ramp up competition in the sandwich chain industry even more.

Of course, Jersey Mike's isn't just growing for the sake of growth alone. Clearly, the chain's approach to sandwich making—using top-quality meats and cheeses and fresh-baked bread—is resonating with consumers. The company raked in some $3.4 billion in sales last year—a 25% increase from 2022, according to the Wall Street Journal. Those strong sales have fueled the Manasquan, N.J.-based chain's expansion into new areas once dominated by its sandwich-slinging competitors.

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What makes Jersey Mike's market share gains even more impressive is the fact that it didn't rely on price hikes to get there. Gunther explains that some chains are able to grow their market share by raising their prices. But when looking at all the major sandwich chains, average ticket growth (i.e. increases in average sales per customer) at Jersey Mike's is "among the lowest," he says.

This means that Jersey Mike's is moving up in the sandwich chain market not because it's charging more, but because customers are coming in more frequently.

"This outperformance is completely driven by transaction growth," Gunther says.

To be clear, Jersey Mike's isn't likely to overtake Panera or Subway in terms of market share in the near future. Gunther, citing Consumer Edge data, said that Subway's sales volumes are still roughly two and a half times higher than Jersey Mike's, while Panera's are more than one and a half times higher. While it would be more "attainable" for Jersey Mike's to surpass Panera, "it's not as if it looks like it's something that's happening anytime soon," Gunther says.

Still, the Consumer Edge data makes it clear that Jersey Mike's is the sandwich chain to watch right now.

Says Gunther, "Jersey Mike's in terms of overall growth has been a standout."

Zoe Strozewski
Zoe Strozewski is a News Writer for Eat This, Not That! A Chicago native who now lives in New Jersey, she graduated from Kean University in 2020 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Read more about Zoe