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Despite Recent Turmoil, America's Largest Sandwich Chain Is Seeing Record Sales

The recent menu refresh was a huge success, the company reports.
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Subway seems to be clawing its way back to the top. While in recent months many fast-food brands reported booming sales at drive-thrus and via delivery apps, Subway's latest sales figures show the company has had one of its best months in recent history. The success comes in the face of some major PR adversity the company has been facing this year.

Subway has been making headlines with inner company turmoil, questionable tuna quality, and a sandwich giveaway that insiders say was less than successful. Still, the chain was able to pull off a major win, according to its most recent earnings report: their August sales have been the highest the company has seen since 2013.

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Subway says that its huge menu refresh, the most extensive one in brand history, which rolled out mid-July, increased August sales by more than 4%, compared to the same period in 2019. Its 5,000 top-performing domestic locations did even better with a 33% increase in sales. These are the kinds of figures Subway hasn't seen in eight years, which makes the company confident it can beat its projected sales plan for the year by more than $1 billion.

"The journey to build a better Subway has begun, and the changes are having a positive impact on restaurant sales," said John Chidsey, CEO, Subway. "As we continue this journey, our priority is working hand-in-hand with our dedicated network of franchisees to ensure they have the tools and support needed to grow their business and experience a positive return, resulting in franchisees continuing to invest in their business and the brand."

The chain reported positive sales in the second quarter of the year as well, but it was struggling to get ahead of reports of its mistreatment of franchisees as well as the questionable quality of its food. Enter the Eat Fresh Refresh campaign, a menu overhaul that consisted of upgrading some 20 items, including base ingredients. Everything from Subway's bread to its deli meats and toppings was swapped out for better-quality alternatives or improved recipes. The chain also launched six new and returning sandwiches and rolled out a better app with friendlier customer features.

And while Subway and its sales numbers paint the menu refresh as a success (the company said a survey of 66,000 customers revealed that as many as 83% are fans of the new menu), others have been more skeptical about the improvements.

A food critic for the New York Post called their newly launched sandwiches "just as vile as the old ones," and a review in the Washington Post took aim at the lukewarm execution of the new-and-improved customer experience, pointing to uninspired ingredient combos and staff that still don't know how to make the newly launched menu items.

A Subway franchisee we've spoken to in July characterized the changes to the menu as purely cosmetic, saying the company didn't do much in the way of implementing actual improvements to the ingredients. "Our turkey may be sliced more thinly now," he said, "but it's the exact same turkey we were using before."

On the other hand, some operators are reporting a much more positive experience of the chain's food.

"We are getting an extremely positive reaction from our guests regarding all that is new at Subway," said David Liseno, a multi-unit Subway restaurant franchisee in Central New York State. "Our loyal regulars—in addition to many first-time guests—are commenting to our team that they taste a real difference in our new sandwiches and ingredients.

If you've tried the new Subway menu, what's your verdict? Let us know by emailing us at [email protected].

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Mura Dominko
Mura is ETNT's Executive Editor, leading the coverage of America's favorite restaurant chains, grocery stores, and viral food moments. Read more about Mura