Fresh Forward: Subway Hong Kong’s new strategy

Subway Hong Kong has chosen a university campus to launch the first of its new-generation store concepts in Greater China.

The Fresh Forward restaurant decor marks a modernisation for the iconic made-to-order sandwich chain which with a new development office in Hong Kong and Macau is achieving same-store annual sales growth of more than 20 per cent. The new development office management team, comprising CEO Christel LeBrun, GM Jamie LeBrun and director Mark Rutherglen have more than 50 years of Subway experience between them.

The Subway Hong Kong and Macau Development Office team at the City University concept store opening. Jamie LeBrun is on the right at the rear.

Subway Hong Kong’s new Fresh Forward restaurant opened on level 3 of City University’s Lau Ming Wai Building in late August. It takes up a 900sqft site and seats 30 guests, making it one of the largest Subways in Hong Kong and Macau. The larger footprint is representative of the new development office’s strategy to develop the brand on a larger scale, unlike the smaller kiosk-style locations opened in the past.

During the grand opening the store served more than 1300 customers, fulfilling 200-plus orders an hour during peak lunch periods. “Last year, we focused a lot of energy on better service, fresher products and cleaner restaurants,” said Christel LeBrun. “The way in which our sandwich artists and managers handled the volume on opening day is a testament to how far the operations have come in 12 months.”

Elisa Lai, operations manager with Subway Hong Kong & Macau Development Office, says the new decor is “an exciting change for Subway operations” here.

Subway Hong Kong expects that by the end of this year half of its outlets across the two territories will be remodelled to the new concept which Jamie LeBrun describes as “Subway stepping into the 21st Century”.

Features of the new look include digital and interactive menu boards that have a more product-focused design and are controlled centrally via a content-management system.

New fresh-vegetable and bread displays show customers how the chain’s products are prepared fresh in store each day.

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Brightly coloured furniture and eye-catching graphics on the walls create a more welcoming and “fresh” environment for dine-in customers, who can enjoy the convenience of power points for laptops and USB charging ports to recharge smart devices.

“Our customers want good food, better value and clean restaurants. And we’re giving them that,” said Jamie LeBrun.

Michael Kyprianou, director of development with Subway Hong Kong and a part owner of the City University store, describes the new concept as “an absolute game changer”.

Future Fresh Forward stores in the two cities will be set up to cater better to online ordering.

“With the move towards services like Deliveroo and Foodpanda, we have redesigned the back of house so where we have a prep bench, you can lift it up and you’ll have a salad bar so you can assemble orders at the back of the store for delivery,” says Jamie LeBrun. “So when orders are coming in online during peak hours, someone will be out the back preparing orders and not interfering with the in-store trade.”

Jamie LeBrun says some Hong Kong Subway stores can earn up to 25 per cent of their sales online. “That’s how big the online space is. When it’s raining, no one wants to go out and pick it up. People have got short lunchtimes too – no one wants to go stand in line.”

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Menu evolution

A major part of Subway’s success last year was a revamped menu which Jamie LeBrun says will continue to evolve to reflect local tastes and feature ‘limited-time offers’.

“Product innovation is the cornerstone of future success for our business.”

An avocado promotion in stores last year with three popular combinations – Roast Chicken and Avocado, Bacon and Avocado and Turkey, Bacon and Avocado – achieved sales 200 per cent higher than forecast.

This year, Subway Hong Kong promises a new product every six weeks, including limited time offers such as Black Pepper Beef, Shrimp and Avocado and Rotisserie Chicken sandwiches.

“Currently in restaurants you will find a Japanese Curry Chicken that offers a great warm flavour for these colder months,” says Christel LeBrun.

Late last year, the company expanded the core menu offer adding coffee to new restaurants through a partnership with Kolb, offering fair-trade coffee beans and fresh milk in hot or cold drinks made in store.

This year, Subway Hong Kong plans another menu-centric initiative called ‘restore the core’ – the first part of this initiative will be an analysis of existing items and optimising the menu based on what is popular and what can be removed. The second part is then to improve on the products left on the menu.

Also this year, Subway will be more engaged in the community by sponsoring major ‘active lifestyle and sporting’ events around the territory to boost its profile and make consumers aware of its new outlet design and menu.

“We are looking at a few events that complement the Subway brand to partner with this year, we are eager to get back into the event space and engage more with our customers,” says Jamie leBrun.

On World Sandwich Day the company plans to launch a promotion with proceeds donated to those in need via the St James Settlement in Hong Kong. “A number of restaurants were doing 130 sandwiches an hour, every hour for eight hours on the day last year,” says Christel LeBrun.

Franchisee search

The development office has several new outlets scheduled to open during the next six weeks, including a new Fresh Forward outlet on Hollywood Road, Central.

New franchisees are being sought to to help expand its store network now the brand has revamped its decor and upgraded its menu.

“We are looking for new franchisees that are team players to help grow the brand in the right way,” explains Christel LeBrun.

“People that are looking to own their own business or be their own boss. Training is provided so it doesn’t matter what background they come from. We have doctors, lawyers, graduates, teachers, parents and everyone in between,” adds Jamie LeBrun.

Four new franchisees joined last year with another 10 sought this year with the longer-term goal to have 100 outlets in the two territories within 10 years.

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