Will Subway’s overhaul land with Canadians?

From the C-Suite newsletter: The QSR brings its rebrand North of the border with a heavier focus on local ingredients.

SUBWAY Canada-Subway- Canada Launches The Eat Fresh Refresh-- Ne

By Will Novosedlik

Yesterday saw the official Canadian launch of Subway’s “Eat Fresh Refresh” campaign, which began rolling out in the U.S. back in July of 2021. At the time, Subway referred to it as the biggest brand overhaul in its 50-year history.

However, there have been critics. For example, the Washington Post, reported that Subway’s makeover felt “underwhelming in scope” and that “few of the changes seem to speak to current trends in the food world.” Subway will undoubtedly feel the pressure to inspire a more positive reception up here in Canada.

The brand overhaul was in response to the QSR’s decreasing share of the “limited service” sandwich market in the U.S., which previously sat at a 41% in 2013, falling to 28% in 2020. According to some reports, the company overexpanded, often forcing franchisees to build stores near existing locations. The sheer number of restaurants –  nearly 27,000 at its peak in the States – meant that each individual store generated less revenue per unit. (In comparison, Subway has 2,925 locations in Canada and is #2 in terms of number of stores within the category, sitting just behind market leader Tim Hortons, which has 4,268 locations.)

In the U.S., the company had focused more on store growth instead of unit volumes and continues to pay the price for that decision. Naturally, strategy asked Douglas Fry, country director for Canada, if Subway faced similar challenges North of the border.

“Over the last few years, in-restaurant traffic has declined, mainly due to the pandemic,” he tells us. “In addition, the incredibly competitive QSR space has given Canadians more choice when deciding where to eat. So the goal of the ‘Eat Fresh Refresh’ is to provide crave-able new offerings while increasing convenience and hospitality, winning over new and existing guests.”

Fry goes on to say that the brand is looking to enhance consumer perception, and to signal a renewed commitment to menu innovation, product quality, and locally sourced Canadian farm-raised ingredients. With the introduction of new menu items, new sauces and flavours, he wants to show customers that the team has listened to feedback and is committed to pushing the boundaries of what Subway is known for.

That feedback came from a number of sources, including customers in the restaurants themselves, via CRM channels, and on social media. To get deeper insights, Subway also hosted focus groups and testing through “innovation kitchens.” In the end, the team came up with the longest list of new sandwiches, meats, sauces, toppings and breads the brand has seen North of the border.

One thing the Canadian version may have learned from the arguably less-than-exciting American launch is to shine a lot more light on its locally sourced ingredients, something the brand failed to do in the U.S. Subway Canada’s launch messaging has made sure not to repeat that mistake.

“We’re fortunate to collaborate with Canadian producers and farmers across the country,” says Fry. “And as we prepared for the refresh, the appetite for Canadian-sourced ingredients shone through in consumer feedback.”

Mark - Hand On Counter
To create excitement around the launch, Subway developed a campaign around two Canadian elite athletes. One is three-time Olympic Snowboarding Bronze medallist Mark McMorris and the other is tennis pro Leylah Fernandez.

The American campaign was also built around sports celebrities like tennis superstar Serena Williams, New England patriots quarterback Tom Brady and Golden State Warriors point guard Stephen Curry. In Canada, however, McMorris and Fernandez star as “amateur spokespeople” in playful TV spots that highlight Subway’s new signature creations and the “Eat Fresh Refresh.”

Leylah - sandwiches

The campaign includes advertising across YouTube, Snapchat, TikTok and on TV. According to is creative AOR dentsuMcGarryBowen, the launch is activating with 10-plus influencers across Canada to create content and share it with their followers in late April and early May.

In advance of the launch, Subway also hosted two exclusive media previews to unveil the refresh to food and lifestyle media in Toronto and Montreal. In-store presence will be augmented with new point-of-purchase materials beginning this week, too – the signage will signal to guests that the refresh has landed, encouraging them to try new menu items.

Media planning is being handled by Carat, athlete search by MKTG, and PR and influencer activations will be led by Veritas.