When a supply chain ‘shortage’ becomes a marketing boon

Marketing Bites: Subway is the latest example of a restaurant chain capitalizing on real or inflated supply issues to boost sales.
Subway footlong cookie
Subway says it's bringing back its Footlong Cookie. | Photo courtesy of Subway

Marketing Bites

In last week’s marketing column, we made the case for doing away with the schtick of “renaming” a restaurant brand to promote a new menu item.

Well, here’s another marketing gimmick that can ride off into the sunset with Clara Peller (don’t know who that is? Ask your mom.): Cooking up a shortage of a particular menu item to gin up demand.

Exhibit No. 1: Subway on Wednesday announced the “triumphant return” of its Footlong Cookie following “months of incredible demand,” calling the giant cookie’s comeback a “much-needed morale booster” for the nation.

The Miami-based sandwich chain said it has sold more than 5 million Footlong Cookies since the item debuted in January (along with the Cinnabon Footlong Churro and the Auntie Anne’s Footlong Pretzel).

We reached out to Subway for more details on the supply chain challenges that may have led to the giant cookie’s disappearance or even further info about how long it has been unavailable. We haven’t heard back.

Much like the chicken-sandwich craze that inspired BurgerFi to “rename” itself ChickenFi, we have Popeyes to blame for the supply chain shortage-turned marketing gold.

Popeyes launched its wildly popular chicken sandwich in August 2019, selling two months’ worth of supply in just two weeks. The sandwich made its return that November and continued to sell well even as the pandemic sent everyone into isolation.

Some of those sales were no doubt fueled by supply shortages. I may have barely passed the introductory econ class they made journalism majors take, but even I understand supply and demand.

However, it seems some of the recent “supply challenges” may be more like “marketing (ahem, Subway, ahem … ) opportunities.”

Exhibit No. 2: Noodles & Company in April sold 110,000 bowls of its Steak Stroganoff limited-time offer in two weeks, running out of the dish and trumpeting its return several weeks later.

Exhibit No. 3: Taco Bell was so gung-ho about the return of its Mexican Pizza in 2022 following a sold-out limited run of the item that it commissioned a musical starring Dolly Parton to celebrate its return.

For Subway’s part, the chain said it has “worked diligently to rush additional Footlong Cookie supply to satisfy cookie cravings.”

It’s an admirable effort, indeed, one that certainly makes for compelling press release copy.

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