While the corporate team at sandwich chain Quiznos has spent the last few months battling debt and preparing a restructuring plan, the brand’s menu developers have been busy rolling out a new series of items that could buoy its bottom line: Toasty Pastas, a first for Quiznos, rolled out nationally on February 24.

“We started to develop the pasta platform in the middle of last year, and then we tested it in two markets,” says Susan Lintonsmith, chief marketing officer. “We’re always looking at innovating and new products, and this is one of several ideas we worked on that we believe leverages our equity of quality ingredients and the chef-created recipes, as well as our existing production line and equipment.”

Lintonsmith says the development process involved an analysis of consumer trends, concept panels, and focus groups, culminating in market tests in Minneapolis and San Diego. Six pasta dishes emerged from development and testing: three iterations of mac and cheese—including Classic Mac & Cheese, Bacon Mac & Cheese, and Lobster Mac & Cheese—a Spicy Sausage Marinara with all-pork Italian sausage and Mozzarella cheese; Meatballs Marinara with pork-blended meatballs and Romano, Ricotta, and Mozzarella cheeses; and Chicken Pesto, with diced balsamic tomatoes and an Italian three-cheese blend.

“We knew from the beginning we wanted to have a line of the mac and cheese pastas, and we also wanted to make sure we launched it at the same time we brought back our lobster seafood products in time for Lent to feature our Lobster Mac and Cheese,” Lintonsmith says. “We feel this product is really unique to Quiznos and just perfect for the seafood season.”

The Chicken Pesto was a direct result of customer feedback praising the brand’s basil pesto, she says. “As we were doing our testing, we were also running our Classics promotion; we were doing the meatball and sausage subs because we had a new and improved meatball and had just launched the sausage,” she adds. “We heard some feedback that [consumers] would love to be able to get that, too.”

Lintonsmith says one of the goals of launching the new pasta line was to boost the dinner daypart and increase weekend traffic—Quiznos’ best-performing daypart is lunch. In both test markets, those were the results the brand saw, and since the late February launch, traffic during those times has improved across the board, she says.

Operationally, the pasta line works with Quiznos’ existing model and uses many ingredients available for sandwiches, including most of the toppings—the brand’s signature bread is even used as a crumb topping. The only real addition to the ingredient lineup is the Cavatappi pasta, used for all six dishes. Customers do have the ability to customize each dish.

“That is what is so great about this Cavatappi pasta platform is it enables us to have the flexibility to do these different recipes, leveraging our existing infrastructure and our great, quality ingredients,” Lintonsmith says.

All six pasta dishes come in an entrée size, starting at $4.99, and some come in a smaller kids’ menu size, she says. “We are also looking at using that Cavatappi pasta for a side pasta salad, and we may test out also having a smaller version, but at this point, we’re also looking at using it as a catering option,” Lintonsmith adds.

Though Lintonsmith could not comment on the impact of the pasta rollout on Quiznos’ reported $570 million of debt, she says the brand is “working with our partners to make sure we establish a framework that positions Quiznos and our franchisees for future growth and success. On the menu side, our focus is not on having a big menu, but the right menu.”

By Tamara Omazic

Finance, Menu Innovations, News, Sandwiches, Quiznos