snack break | subway – what sub

Pick and choose all the ingredients you want on a sandwich. From the meats and breads to the vegetables and toppings. This was the basic strategy for the brand Subway.  Nowadays the company runs around 41.000 restaurants worldwide which use this same basic principle and are all franchisees. For a little peek behind the curtain at Subway, we spoke to Mireille Elberse, Head of Marketing Ned-Nordics (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, the Netherlands and Sweden). After working in advertising for accounts like McDonald's (TBWA) and Jumbo Supermarkten (Alfred International), she was up for a new challenge. In January she was asked to get more efficiency in and attention for the Subway brand. 

What learnings have you taken from your former job and is applicable to your current position?

When Menno van der Hoeven, Country Director Ned-Nordics, approached me to work for Subway, I was surprised, but excited. He gave me an interesting challenge: Get synergy and build a proper team within your business unit. I work with Finnish, Swedish and Dutch Marketeers. All with their own needs, interests and knowledge. What I have taken from my former jobs is that I think it’s important to build a good relationship with our agencies. In my previous roles I’ve noticed that everything gets better if you work together closely. Of course I realise it’s not always smooth sailing, but without a bit of pressure you’ll never get a diamond. 

What is the origin of Subway?

The brand Subway and I are about the same age. Subway was founded in 1965 in the USA and is a global QSR-brand with the main focus on sandwiches. In all of our 41.000 restaurants worldwide, you can compile your own submarine sandwich or “sub” as everyone knows them. 

Can you describe your typical Subway customer?

Our guests are young, vibrant people. Sometimes they love healthy lunches and sometimes they crave for indulgent comfort food. It is all possible. They can choose between loads of meat on their sandwiches or subs without meat, like a vegan patty made from chickpea quinoa. It all depends on the way they feel that day and the mood they’re in. Rather turn their Sub into a salad or a wrap? It’s all possible.

What are your key goals for the brand, and are you looking to reposition the brand’s messaging?

One of the most important goals is to get as many guests as possible in our restaurants. That is a challenge. It’s a tough group, who doesn’t have a lot of money. They can spend their hard-earned euro just once, and there are plenty of other options available. We have to make sure we are on the top of their minds. In Sweden and the Netherlands that’s a different challenge than Finland, where Subway is already a key QSR player. We’re working hard to give the brand a modern look with relevant messages and craveable food. For the Netherlands and Sweden we’re cooperating with Achtung to achieve this. It takes time, but we’re confident we’ll get there shortly. 

Have you refocused efforts as a result of COVID-19 and what has your response been?

Unfortunately COVID-19 hit us just as hard as other brands and companies. But in the Ned-Nordics lots of restaurants remained open, contrarily to other European countries, because of differences in regulations. Our restaurants adopted primarily take-away and delivery during the “lockdown”. To handle this pandemic within Subway the cooperation with our franchisees was more intens than ever.

What is your favourite sub?

It wouldn’t be a surprise that I love to get a sub at Subway. My daughter Muriël is a big fan too. She regularly says she wants to order a sandwich. I can’t choose between the Chicken Teriyaki or the Steak & Cheese. Most of the times I go for the ‘six-inch’, not the Footlong. That is too much for me and I leave it to Muriël. For dessert we always order some freshly baked cookies.

Anything to add?

What a lot of people don’t know is that we prepare everything fresh. We cut and prepare the ingredients ourselves in the kitchen. The bread is freshly baked several times a day. Our staff in the restaurants are called ‘Sandwich Artist’ for a clear reason, they prepare each and every sub, salad or wrap tailor-made with heart and soul in front of the guests. 

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