Bruce Horovitz, USA TODAY
Subway's done a lot of stuff with its sandwich bread, but its newest offering could be both an industry head-turner and customer nose-sniffer: garlic bread.
No, not a side order of garlic bread sold separately, but subs sold on sandwiches made with garlic bread - at no extra cost. In a nation whose collective taste buds go gaga over the mixing and matching of flavors, garlic bread as a sandwich option could give the nation's largest sandwich chain a serious competitive edge.
Although the move is scheduled to be announced on Monday, garlic bread at Subway will not be rolled out nationally until Sept. 1. But in the rollicking world of bread mania within the fast-food industry, Subway has company aplenty. The bread wars come at a tough time when fast-food rivals are concocting all kinds of outside-the-box bread options to steal business from each other.
Burgers on pretzel rolls have been a huge hit a Wendy's, which also recently rolled out chicken sandwiches made with flatbread. McDonald's is selling burgers in baguettes in parts of Europe. Smashburger offers several artisan buns, including multigrain and spicy chipotle. Panera sells gobs of artisan and specialty breads. And flatbread is a signature item at Cosi.
Sometimes the exterior of the sandwich does get a bit batty. Like Taco Bell's new Waffle Taco. Or the Glazed Donut Sandwich at Dunkin' Donuts. And Sonic just began to steam college football logos on buns at some regional locations.
"This is the summer of quality carbohydrates," says Christopher Muller, a professor at Boston University's School of Hospitality Administration.
What's more, bread of all kinds has become fast-food's "power app," says Gary Stibel, CEO at New England Consulting Group.
For Subway, which already offers five breads on its permanent menu at its more than 26,000 U.S. locations, it's all about widening the options for consumers to attract business. While garlic bread will roll out as a limited-time offer, if it's a huge hit, it could be added to the permanent menu, says Tricia Hetherington, director of R&D at Subway.
The garlic bread was recently tested in seven cities, Hetherington says, "and it tested higher than some of our best products."
The garlic bread - made fresh daily in the stores - will be sold both hot or cold. The familiar aroma of the garlic bread baking - and being toasted into sandwiches - is expected to elicit consumer interest.
Subway says it plans to regularly introduce limited-time bread options - and see what rises to the top.
Meanwhile, others are almost certain to follow, says Muller, because in the fast-food industry, "It is innovation by mimicry. Others will have to match it - or look stale."