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Subway’s latest restaurant format is a fridge

The chain will use the high-tech vending machines to sell more sandwiches in places like airports and college campuses.
Subway's first smart fridge opened in September at the University of California San Diego. / Photograph courtesy of Subway

Subway has unveiled a new format it believes will help it add locations in places like airports and truck stops: a smart fridge.

The fridges, stocked with freshly made sandwiches, drinks and chips, are part of the chain’s Grab & Go program for nontraditional locations.

They have far more technology than the average vending machine. Customers can speak to the fridge to ask questions about the selections inside, for instance, and weight-sensing shelves tell the fridge how much to charge. After every purchase, the fridge’s contents are sanitized with UV-C light.

The first fridge opened in September at the University of California San Diego, where students have “enjoyed the convenience and ease of being able to get a sandwich any time of day,” Subway said in a press release. It added that it has seen strong interest in the fridges from franchisees.

“As Subway continues to expand off-premises concepts, guests can expect to find Subway Grab & Go and smart fridges in more convenient everyday places like airports, college campuses, and hospitals,” said Karla Martinez, Subway’s director of innovation for nontraditional development, in a statement.

Subway has about 400 Grab & Go locations, which include unmanned kiosks and coolers and now fridges. Nearby franchisees prepare and deliver sandwiches to the outlets each day. Subway views these satellites as a way for operators to sell more sandwiches.

They are part of an overall push by the sandwich giant to open more nontraditional locations, which already make up a significant chunk of its system: About 5,900 of its North American restaurants—more than 25% of its footprint—are in colleges, hospitals, airports and truck stops. 

And those outlets have done well this year: Same-store sales are up 13% compared to 2021, Subway said.

“As more of our guests search for dining experiences to meet their 'in-the-moment' needs, the brand's non-traditional locations and platforms can serve them wherever and whenever they are craving Subway,” said Taylor Bennett, vice president of non-traditional development at Subway, in a statement.

The move comes as Subway looks to reignite growth after years of unit count declines. It has seen promising results from its new Subway Series menu of 12 pre-set sandwiches, which helped lift same-store sales by 8.4% in the third quarter. 

“As Subway focuses on strategic and profitable growth, there is a significant opportunity to expand our footprint in non-traditional locations and for franchisees to generate incremental revenue for their business,” Bennett said. 

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