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    Vive le Sandwich!

    The old standby of foodservice operations gets an overhaul

    By Michael Browne

    That schoolyard riddle has been passed down for generations, but there is certainly some credence in the hunger-sating power of the sandwich. Even the otherwise hapless Dagwood Bumstead realized this.

    What has always made the sandwich such a popular meal option is its versatility and individuality; while you may not see Elvis's "fluffer-nutter" sandwiches on a menu any time soon, convenience stores and quick-service restaurants are doing their best to create original sandwiches for an increasingly demanding and diverse marketplace.

    That's certainly the case at Subway Sandwiches & Salads. The Milford, Conn.-based fast-food giant, with 2,130 of its 3,325 nontraditional units in c-stores, has been riding high with its "Jared" low-fat campaign, and is now going a step farther. Building upon the success of its Selects line of gourmet-inspired sandwiches, Subway has rolled out five new additions pairing gourmet-flavored sauces with the meats and vegetables they most complement.

    "The combination of terrific advertising and great product has had excellent results for us," said Nick Hauptfeld, director of new product development. "With the Jared campaign, we emphasized the fat-free quality of our sandwiches; now we're focusing on the great taste."

    Subway's new sandwiches include Sweet Onion Chicken Teriyaki; Red Wine Vinaigrette Club; Honey Mustard Ham; Dijon Horseradish Melt; and Southwest Turkey and Bacon. (The first three are part of Subway's "7 under 6" menu, sandwiches with less than 6 grams of fat.)

    "We rolled the Selects line out in the summer of 2001, and after extensive market research decided to change the menu selection this year," said Hauptfeld. That comprehensive testing process involved focus groups and taste tests, with the emphasis on the consumer, not the operator. "We've changed our approach to go directly to customers, rather than franchisees. This way our decisions are based entirely on taste and quality, and not skewed toward costs of operations, labor or quantity of food."

    Steve Gurwitz, for one, couldn't be happier with his Subway franchise. The third-generation owner/operator of the Hilltop Farms convenience store in Bellingham, Mass., has been a franchisee since 1997 and said, "Every year we break records. Subway has made money for us from day one. If I had it to do all over again, I wouldn't do anything different." The 250-square-foot Subway unit has increased every single category in the store, he said "We get 500 to 800 Subway customers a week, almost all of whom buy something else in the store."

    For Gurwitz, Subway gives him one up on the competition. "All of the testing and marketing has been done for us," he said. "We've rolled out the new Selects line, and so far the results have been very exciting for us."

    Unlike a pizza or burger offering, Gurwitz likes the flexibility a sandwich menu affords him. "There's something on that menu for everybody," he said. "Subway offers more options for customers."

    Fresh Taste, Convenient Format

    Arby's Inc. is another fast feeder making c-store cash registers ring with profits from sandwiches. The Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based company is looking to grow its c-store presence, and its Market Fresh sandwich concept may just be the draw c-stores are looking for.

    "We've partnered with Pilot Oil [the company's largest partner, with 35 locations], Love's Country Stores and Travel Centers of America," said Kevin Kruse, vice president, franchise sales. "The Arby's brand and our adult-oriented menu are particularly well suited for travel centers and gas/convenience facilities."

    He added: "What we look for are sites that can accommodate a full-service restaurant with a drive-through. We've found that a separately branded concept grows traffic for a site that already offers gasoline and a c-store."

    The Market Fresh menu has been a successful addition to Arby's traditional hot roast beef sandwiches. "Our strategy was to offer top quality, deli-style sandwiches in a quick-service restaurant," said Kruse. "The response has been overwhelming — the size and taste of the sandwiches appeals to men, while the high quality attracts women." The sandwiches — which include made-to-order roast beef and swiss, roast turkey and swiss, roast chicken Caesar and the new turkey, bacon and ranch — are all made with the freshest ingredients and served on Arby's own bread. They retail for around $4.

    "Cost is not really a factor," said Kruse. "What we're offering is high quality."

    As well as another option for hungry customers. Like Subway franchisee Gurwitz, Pilot Oil's Jim Barnes is impressed with the variety a sandwich program offers. "Our customers think Arby's offers an excellent change of pace from hamburgers or tacos," he said.

    Market Fresh has done so well for Arby's that the company is experimenting with extending the concept to include soups, salads and combos.

    Of course, a branded partner isn't the only way to go. The beauty of a sandwich program is its ease of operation and menu flexibility. So, for every Subway, Arby's or Blimpie, there's a convenience store running its own deli operation, a Wawa selling hoagies or a 7-Eleven offering its Big Eats deli sandwiches. And who knows — maybe someone out there is offering fluffer-nutter sandwiches. The Market Fresh menu has been a successful addition to Arby's traditional hot roast beef sandwiches. The sandwiches are made with the freshest ingredients and served on Arby's own bread.

    By Michael Browne
    • About Michael Browne

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