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To some Subway operators, slicers aren't all they're sliced up to be

The fast-food sandwich giant paid for automated slicers for each of its 20,000 locations. But some operators are still waiting to see the benefits. "Nobody is saying this is the greatest thing since sliced bread."
subway slicer
Slicers aren't having the food cost benefit that Subway predicted, say some operators. | Photo courtesy of Subway.

As part of a series of new menu improvements designed to generate sales and traffic last year, Subway paid for automatic meat slicers for each of its 20,000 U.S. restaurants. In the process, the fast-food sandwich giant said the move would lower food costs over time while giving the company a “quality halo” from customers.

It remains to be seen about the latter, but the promised food cost savings have yet to come, at least to some franchisees, while adding to operators’ labor costs.

“We haven’t seen any data that says these slicers have driven sales, driven customer counts or profitability,” Bill Mathis, a Minnesota Subway franchisee and chairman of the North American Association of Subway Franchisees, or NAASF, said on the most recent episode of the Restaurant Business podcast “A Deeper Dive.”

“It has a wide range of opinion on this,” he added, “but I think the bottom line here is nobody is saying this is the greatest thing since sliced bread or since sliced meats.”

Subway, on the other hand, said slicers were a key component in the company’s menu evolution. And the company argues they would yield long-term food cost savings for operators.

The company’s meat vendors, for instance, will not have to slice meat before sending it to stores.

And Subway argues that customers believe meat sliced on-site to be better than meat that comes to the store already sliced. The company also noted that it provided the slicers at no cost to the franchisees.

“It was an effort to deliver better food and a better guest experience,” the company said in a statement. “Consumer research shows that slicers improve the perception and taste of the product, and franchisees have told us that they are easy to use, and streamline the labor previously needed to prepare the meat.”

“Since slicers are still relatively new to our system, we are unable to share exact cost-savings figures, but expect that we’ll see long-term savings for franchisees, compared to using pre-sliced meats,” Subway added.

But according to franchisees, any potential food cost benefit is offset by the wasted meat.

“There’s waste involved because of the end cuts,” Mathis said. “Sometimes we have to slice so much at a time, lower volume stores may have to throw away product before the shelf life is up, which we encourage everybody to do because we want to serve the best product available.”

The franchisees also disagree with the company’s assessment that it doesn’t generate added labor. It takes more time to slice the meat, for one thing. And, he said, “you’ve got to clean the slicer, and we want these slicers to be cleaned.”

Other franchisees agreed that the slicers haven’t had the impact that the company hoped.

“We were not built for slicers,” one operator said. “You gain nothing except a lot of waste and a lot of labor.”

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