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QSR Interview | By Blair Chancey

How Subway Went Global

In other countries they’re already eating sandwiches, but maybe in France, for example, they’re eating a baguette with a little bit of meat that they get at a stand on the street corner, they’re all pre-made and they’re there ready to go and you can grab them and they’re cheap and the bread is hard. People are used to that, but then we have to educate them that when they look at a Subway sub it’s very different. It’s got more meat, it’s made to their order, they can have lettuce, they have those veggies, they can have it with or without veggies, as many veggie assortments as they want. It’s a whole new eating experience.

Are international consumers comfortable with making demands about what should be on their sandwiches? Sometimes people are almost afraid to ask. We’ve come across that in some cultures and there we have to teach more suggestive selling on the part of the sandwich artist. But sometimes that’s difficult because the sandwich artists are also shy about offering the products.

Have you had any real competition from any regional brands in the international markets? We’ve had the advantage of being first to market with our offering in most countries. I think the biggest sandwich market that we got into was the United Kingdom, and when we showed up there with one store there was already Pret A Manger all over the place. We’re now the No. 1 brand in terms of numbers of locations, but that took a lot of work.

Don’s Favorite Sandwich

“It’s a pastrami sandwich, cut pastrami with cold potato salad on top and the potato salad is more of a vinegary kind of mix, not the heavy mayonnaise potato salad. And that’s on top of the hot pastrami and then some cheese on top of that. It sounds strange but it is delicious. That’s a very popular sandwich in Japan.”

For readers who are interested in taking their brands beyond U.S. borders, what would be your best advice for starting that process? The first piece of advice I would give is take a look at the quick-service landscape in that market, and see what kind of growth is occurring there. Are the folks even familiar with quick-service restaurants and franchising?

The next thing would be don’t be too quick to second guess the consumer and make immediate assumptions as to what to change. Ultimately, you’d be surprised how many folks are looking for the original experience. Sometimes you can be way too speedy in saying, “We see a lot of people who are eating rice and beans, so we better have a rice and bean sandwich.”

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Blair Chancey is QSR’s editor.