How Does Subway’s Foot Traffic Look Amid the Company’s Potential Sale?

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Recently, consumer trends have favored convenient and affordable options, boosting foot traffic to quick service restaurant (QSR) locations. One global leader in the QSR world, Subway, has recently confirmed that the company is exploring the possibility of selling. With this news of a potential sale that could value the company at more than $10 billion, Gravy Analytics analyzed foot traffic to Subway locations in the U.S. and compared it with some of Subway’s biggest competitors in the QSR sandwich category.

Foot Traffic to Subway & Competitors

We analyzed year-over-year foot traffic to Subway locations compared with its top sandwich chain competitors between February 2022 and February 2023. Overall, the entire sandwich category performed well, with significant increases in year-over-year foot traffic across the board.

subway foot traffic

Subway experienced an increase of 27% in year-over-year foot traffic, with various competitors seeing similar growth. Potbelly saw an increase of 28%, Firehouse Subs saw an increase of 32%, and Jersey Mike’s Subs saw an increase of 33%. On the high end, Jimmy John’s experienced an increase of 34% in year-over-year foot traffic, and on the other hand, Cousins Subs saw a 21% increase, or the lowest increase in this category. All these QSR sandwich chains saw growth over the last year, indicating that sandwiches are currently popular among consumers, which suggests that now may be a prime time for a Subway company sale.

subway foot traffic data

Moreover, when comparing the percentage of total visitors to Subway and its top sandwich chain competitors, Subway takes the cake. The estimated total number of visitors to Subway locations vs. other chain locations shows dramatic favorability for Subway. Between February 2022 and February 2023, Subway consistently held over 86% of all sandwich chain visitors, while its competitors saw 5% or lower for the same time period. Perhaps Subway’s vast franchise network and recent menu updates have allowed the company to remain top of mind for consumers.

Although things look relatively positive for the future of Subway in comparison to its sandwich chain counterparts, what happens when we include non-chain sandwich shops in the analysis?

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Mom-and-Pop Sandwich Shops

Although the non-chain category of sandwich shops didn’t reach the same year-over-year foot traffic growth that many of the top chains did, non-chain shops still experienced substantial growth. For the time period we analyzed, non-chain sandwich shops saw an increase of 18% in year-over-year foot traffic. Most of the foot traffic ups and downs that were seen in non-chain sandwich locations coincided with Subway’s foot traffic pattern, however. Although there may be variables attracting consumers to locally-owned sandwich shops, consumer foot traffic patterns to all sandwich locations seem relatively similar. For example, as of February 2023, both non-chain and Subway locations were experiencing an increase in foot traffic, while they both saw decreases in November of 2022. Patterns like this could indicate that sandwich consumers often behave similarly, which could lead to more opportunities for Subway to attract others’ customers.

Although consumer foot traffic trends for each sandwich company showed similarities, non-chain sandwich locations have one significant advantage. These sandwich locations have a much higher percent of estimated total visitors than any large sandwich chain. It seems the mom-and-pop shops are attracting significantly more consumers lately than Subway and its competitors, holding no less than 84% of all consumers in this analysis. Because both chain and non-chain sandwich shops mostly saw similar trends in foot traffic over the last year, Subway has lots of opportunities to capitalize on the popularity of sandwiches and attract customers with promotions and other offerings. At the times when sandwich popularity grows across the board, competition will strengthen, especially between Subway and non-chain shops.

Most sandwich lovers in the nation seem to favor local shops over popular chain locations, but one thing is for certain: in 2023, sandwiches are in. So how could this affect consumer foot traffic to Subway locations in the future?

Subway’s Foot Traffic Growth in 2023

In recent months, Subway has been working on bringing a new level of analysis and strategy into the mix to continue its company growth. For example, along with menu and ingredient updates, Subway reps confirmed they are considering drive-thru developments in hopes of creating more brand loyalty and repeat visits. But, as other QSR restaurants like Wingstop or Chick-fil-A use mobile ordering and even digital-only stores, will Subway need to enhance other aspects of its company or might that come after its potential sale?

Whether Subway goes through with selling or not, the company is proving to be the leader in QSR sandwich chains, and its recent growth initiatives have proven successful. As fast food companies continue evolving their own growth strategies to include things like drive-thru only locations, digital-first customer experiences, and rewards programs, Subway may need to focus on added convenience and technological advancements in order to continue its significant foot traffic growth. As the year progresses, it will be interesting to see how Subway continues to attract visitors, and if consumers will continue to choose local shops over Subway, but Subway over any other major chain.


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