Outside Insights | By Guest Author

Subway Stands to Win the Innovation Game

More quick serves are expanding their menus, but Subway’s new premium ingredients could bring in the most customers.
Subway's premium ingredients could attract new customers.
image used with permission.

While nearly every player in the industry is still shaking off the dizziness from McDonald’s all-day-breakfast uppercut, a number of the big quick-service chains have tried to fight back with menu innovations of their own. Taco Bell took a huge swing by unveiling its new Quesalupa during the Super Bowl; KFC brought Nashville Hot Chicken to the party; and Burger King stepped into the ring with its new hot dogs.

But perhaps the most formidable punch came last month from Subway with the launch of new premium ingredients like thick-carved turkey and Applewood-smoked bacon. Although the items only hit stores a couple days ago, CivicScience wanted to study consumer reaction to the news and compared it to some other recent moves in the market. Here’s what the top line results showed:

The sample of 1,451 U.S. adult respondents paints a potentially beautiful picture for Subway. One-fifth of the 30 percent of U.S. consumers (or 6 percent of the U.S. population overall) who already dine at Subway say they are now likely to eat there more often, thanks to the new ingredients. Even more impressive, a full 10 percent of respondents say they don’t eat there regularly but the new ingredients will bring them in. In other words, Subway could expect as many as 25 percent of its diners in coming months to be first-time or lapsed customers—that’s huge.

Where will the gains come from? First, it looks like a lot of younger consumers are responding well. Sixteen percent of people aged 18–24 say they are regular diners who are planning to eat there more. And the new customers? Those look to be a bit older: 12 percent of 35–44 year-olds say they don’t eat Subway regularly but will now. Men and women were evenly divided, so no big news there.

In other words, Subway could expect as many as 25 percent of its diners in coming months to be first-time or lapsed customers—that’s huge.

The big potential gains appear to come from the most health-conscious consumers. People who consider themselves not overweight are 64 percent more likely than the average consumer to say they will now go to Subway more often. The better proteins are attracting a particular type of diner, too. People who regularly do strength training or lift weights are 72 percent more likely than average to say they will hit Subway more. Could we see a partnership with “American Ninja Warrior” in Subway’s future?

The likely new (or increased) diner is more socially conscious, as well. People who carry reusable shopping bags, for instance, are more than twice as likely to say their visits to Subway will increase. They’re also more likely to be worried about income inequality and more likely to volunteer. Sounds a lot like a traditional Chipotle customer to me.

Subway could also see gains among more tech-savvy customers. People who use a smartphone to research products they buy are a full 122 percent more likely to say they don’t normally eat at Subway but will go more often for the new items. They’re also more likely to watch full TV programs online and to say that comments and recommendations from their friends on social media influence the things they buy.

And, how does Subway’s move stack up against other recent quick-service moves to attract new customers? Over the past year, we’ve developed a growing index of new menu items using the same question format. We’ve seen, for instance, that 8 percent of consumers say they don’t regularly eat at Burger King but plan to try the new flame-frilled hot dogs. Wendy’s new bakery-style bun and foil wrapping: 7 percent. Burger King Jalapeño Chicken Fries: 4 percent. Chick-fil-A’s new kale and broccolini salad: 5 percent.

Burger King’s hot dog offering may have a different appeal. Men were much, much more likely than women to say they will visit more often for the new item, and a full 50 percent of people who say they seldom visit Burger King but will now are aged 55 or older. No huge surprise: the new hot dogs aren’t attracting the fitness crowd. People who say the dogs will bring them into Burger King are twice as likely to say they “almost never/never” exercise.

Time will tell how Subway’s new menu items fare, and a lot will depend on the marketing and customer satisfaction. Neverthless, this looks like a winning move for the brand out of the gates.

John Dick is the founder and CEO of CivicScience, based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Through its proprietary polling technology, CivicScience translates real-time, consumer intentions into fast, forward-looking business intelligence.


Good Article

Positive Article! If we all work together, we can transform our SUBWAY Brand.

Positive Article! If we all work together, we can transform our SUBWAY Brand.

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