Subway: Global Expansion

The first Subway sandwich shop opened in Connecticut, USA in 1965 and by 1968 there were 5 Subway stores across the state. The chain continued to grow throughout the United States over the next decade and a half, reaching 300 Subway franchises in 30 US States by 1982.

The first International Subway outside of North America opened in Bahrain in 1984 starting a period of international expansion with Subway’s opening in Canada, Puerto Rico, Mexico and the Bahamas, followed by Japan, Saudi Arabia and then the rest of the world, with the first UK Subway opening in Brighton in 1996.

Subway officially became the largest global fast food chain in 2010 with 33,749 worldwide restaurants, over a thousand more than McDonald's, and has continued to expand to reach 44,280 restaurants in 110 countries by 2015. This equates to two new Subway stores opening per day since 1965! This scale of operations requires a vast amount of labour and Subway is estimated to employ over 400,000 people around the world in different parts of its operations.

The map below illustrates the spread and concentration of Subway stores around the world in 2015. Where does and doesn’t have Subway stores? Why might this be?

Map produced by Anthonia Onyeahialam for the Global-Rural project

                                               Map produced by Anthonia Onyeahialam for the Global-Rural project


A range of factors and strategies have contributed towards Subway’s rapid global expansion, including:

  • A franchise model of store ownership
  • Opening stores in non-traditional locations - 9,000 stores in places like, zoos, casinos, colleges, laundromats, a church, and petrol stations
  • Presenting a standard, consistent product and experience between any store, anywhere
  • Culturally specific advertising and products (e.g. wide range of vegetarian options in India, spicier options in Mexico) but framed by a global message and branding
  • Mass media tie-in’s e.g. Star Wars, Hunger Games
  • Brand ambassadors including leading sports stars such as Michael Phelps, creating associations with health and fitness.
  • TV coverage, sponsorship and product placement (e.g. Biggest Loser, Hawaii 5-0
  • Donations and sponsorship of local community projects and sports teams, as well as national sporting events.
  • Use of new technology and social media for marketing and promotions e.g. the Subway app
  • Coordination of a vast supply chain by the Independent Purchasing Cooperative (IPC)

In the next section we’ll look at this last point in more detail, focusing on aspects of the Subway commodity chain