Subway is ditching pre-sliced meat in a play to boost sales

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When you’re getting a sandwich for lunch, do you like to see the meats or cheeses sliced directly in front of you? Do you prefer the speed associated with pre-sliced? Do you not care either way — you’re just trying to eat? This the question that Subway has wrestled with and it seems as though they’ve decided that custom-sliced is the way of the future.

As Salon’s Ashlie D. Stevens wrote back in August of last year, “The addition of the meat slicers was first announced last week at the company’s franchise convention in Las Vegas.” 

Jordan Valinsky writes in CNN that “Subway says it had a record-setting year for sales in 2022, bolstered by a major menu revamp and store renovations” and their hope is that switching to a custom-sliced meat approach will help increase these figures even more.

“We were one of the few, if only, sub shop that didn’t slice in restaurant. Not only does it give the guest a better perception of seeing the nice, fluffy meat, but we save a lot of money since we were paying a lot of money to have it sliced upstream,” Subway CEO John Chidsey told CNN.

The change will impact all of its stores and will roll out this year.

As Stevens wrote last year, “up until now, deli meats are sliced at a central facility, wrapped and then sent to individual restaurants.” Competitors like Jersey Mike’s (my personal favorite quick-service, fast-casual sandwich chain) slice their sandwich ingredients in-house. 

So what has led to this change? Dennis Lee at The Takeout states “when deli meat is sliced on site, it retains more moisture than the pre-slice stuff, since less of the meat’s surface area is exposed to air.” There’s also the allure of feeling like one’s meal is really being “made to order,” rather than simply watching pre-sliced meats be haphazardly piled on bread like you would with supermarket-purchased cold cuts at home.

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There could be some speed bumps to Subway’s new strategy, however. I can speak to the fact that working with deli slicers is not an especially enjoyable (or always entirely safe) experience. Of course, it’s also much more work for the food service worker, so one hopes that the increase of labor will be accurately reflected in their paycheck.

In addition, Lee also writes about the issue of sanitation and cleanliness at large, especially since deli and cured meats can often be especially prone to food borne illnesses and the machines aren’t the easiest to clean. The entire notion of “fast casual” implies a certain swiftness, but individually slicing meats can be time-consuming and dangerous for many food service workers, effectively neutralizing the “fast” part of “fast causal.” This Reddit thread in the /Subway community is already ablaze with concerns about (and jabs at) the new approach. 

Of course, company profits don’t always tell the whole “story,” but it’ll be interesting to see how this change may affect the chain in the coming years — for better or for worse.

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