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Subway Reigns, but Competitors are Stepping Up

Subway Reigns, but Competitors are Stepping Up

Whether you’re hankering for a hoagie, grinder, or hero, subs are popular among sandwich lovers everywhere. And, in Intouch Insight’s recent Flash Points survey of 1465 consumers across North America, 58% of respondents included Subway among their favorite sub shops.


Subway definitely came out on top with 17% more votes than Jersey Mike’s and more than twice as many votes as Jimmy John’s. But why? Is Subway a cut above the competition?

To find out what could be behind this preference, we sent mystery shoppers to 75 locations across these 5 major sandwich chains to collect objective data on each brand's performance. This included key metrics from order accuracy to store cleanliness. And, while Subway has the consumer vote today, their competition may have an edge.

Striving for Sandwich Supremacy

The data below was collected from mystery shoppers visiting locations across Texas, Georgia, and California. They conducted 15 visits to each chain, placing orders for approximately the same-sized sandwich via mobile app or the brand’s website for in-store pickup.

While Subway may be synonymous with “eat fresh”, we found all brands scored 100% when it came to the freshness of the bread and ingredients. Additionally, all scored 100% when it came to the cleanliness of their locations’ exteriors.


Despite receiving the least votes in our consumer survey, Jimmy John’s outperformed the competition when it came to accuracy and in-store cleanliness. And even though Subway was the top favorite, their best placement across these categories was to tie with Panera Bread for first in regard to the fewest issues with food temperature.


For additional data from these mystery shops, check out this infographic.

Maintaining Standards at Scale

What must be factored in when comparing this data, both from the consumer survey and mystery shopping visits, is size. Subway has more than twice as many locations in the United States than all of the other brands combined. This is both a blessing and a curse.

Subway’s size gives them more visibility and lets them serve more consumers. But maintaining brand standards across over 20k locations in the U.S. and around 37k locations worldwide is a monumental task.

The bigger brands get, the harder it is to deliver great guest experiences and meet expectations for top-notch food consistently across all locations. This can be especially true when locations are managed by independent franchisees.

But consistency is what helps drive consumer loyalty and customer retention. Consumers are drawn to chains because they know what to expect in regard to both the food and the customer experience. But if these are not consistent across the locations they visit, they are likely to go elsewhere.

The Right Tools for the Job

In order to deliver on these expectations, brands need visibility across their locations and the tools to implement necessary changes.

Mystery shopping visits, like the ones used to collect the data above, provide unparalleled visibility from a consumer perspective. These covert visits enable brands to collect unbiased data on how individual locations perform and identify areas for improvement.

Connecting locations via checklist and inspection software can then allow both corporate and franchisee-run locations to implement the same standard operating procedures. The best inspection software can be centrally managed — providing both a schedule and a record of when regular tasks are completed.

This way, if mystery shopping visits identify that locations are failing to meet brand standards, taking action is easy. The specific steps involved in recurring tasks can be modified and immediately updated across all locations. Or the frequency with which tasks are completed can be increased until each location is meeting established standards.

This is the same challenge facing the biggest brands as well as those looking to grow into one. And we’re here to help! To speak with a member of our team about how we can help your brand exceed expectations, contact us today.

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