Firehouse Subs has rolled out smaller versions of its sandwiches systemwide in a move to attract new customers and drive frequency among existing guests, CEO Don Fox said Friday.
The smaller subs replace the 1,060-unit chain’s lower-calorie Hearty & Flavorful sandwich line, which were reformulated versions of regular subs with less bread and lighter sauces and cheeses. The sandwiches had under 500 calories, but had similar price points to full-calorie items.
“As things progressed, we thought it was more important to have some greater variety, and maybe a greater opportunity on price point,” Fox told Nation’s Restaurant News.
Along with the new sandwiches, Firehouse Subs has introduced Red Delicious apples and a chopped salad with romaine, tomato and cucumber as new side items. It also started offering two kinds of soup — chicken noodle and broccoli cheese —at about half of the chain’s locations, earlier this year. Prices of the sides vary by location.
The new sandwiches have 2 ounces of protein instead of the 4 ounces in medium subs. The sandwiches are 3.5 to 4 inches long and start at $3.99 for a Hook & Ladder, made with smoked turkey breast, Virginia honey ham and melted Monterey Jack cheese.
Unlike the Hearty & Flavorful line, the new subs are the same build as the larger ones, only in a smaller size.
Fox said the small subs don’t have a specific calorie claim, but the chain’s new menu boards that rolled out earlier this week list three sizes for all subs — small, medium and large — with pricing and calorie information.
The sandwiches were tested in some markets in the fall, and Fox said they far outperformed the Hearty & Flavorful sandwiches.
“In fact, we were selling more than twice the number,” he said.
Accompanied by advertising, he said the sandwiches grew incremental traffic.
“We believe that adding this option to the menu will help increase frequency for our guests — especially women. We think that this will be a good option for them, and a good chance to lower the check a little bit,” he said
He also said he hoped the smaller sandwiches would bring in new customers who would be attracted by the lower price point.
“Hopefully we don’t have an inordinate amount of trade-down from a medium to a small,” without an increase in frequency, he said.
Fox said he expected an increase in sales of soup paired with the smaller subs.
Local advertising for the smaller subs will begin on Monday, with a combination of outdoor, radio, digital and print tailored to each market.
Firehouse Subs is based in Jacksonville, Fla. In 2016, systemwide sales rose 5.5 percent, to $674.7 million, according to NRN Top 200 data, and unit count grew 9.6 percent.
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