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Subway Puts a Popular Taco Bell Deal on the Menu

Would you subscribe to a sandwich?

Gone are the days of only having that monthly box of wine or farmer's market produce to subscribe to. Now there are salad subscriptions, pasta bowl subscriptions, and, of course, the taco program that the Yum! Brands  (YUM) -owned Taco Bell launched in January.

Often aimed at office workers grabbing lunch or other people who eat similar things every day, chain food subscriptions often take the form of lowering the price of an entrée by $3 or $4, such as when salad chain Sweetgreen  (SG) launched a $10 pass giving customers $3 off every entrée priced more than $9.99.

In rare cases, a subscription can also function as an all-you-can-eat pass. Since launching it in 1995, restaurant chain Olive Garden has repeatedly nixed and brought back its "never-ending pasta bowl" -- sometimes as a "how much can you really eat in a single serving" and once as a $100 "pasta pass" that one could use over the course of nine weeks.

The economics do not always add up (especially if enough people try to "milk" their pass to its limit) and so such passes rarely move beyond the limited-time offer.

The Taco Lovers Pass that Taco Bell launched in January was around for a few months before being pulled -- for $10 a month, pass owners could get one of seven tacos like the Crunchy Taco or the Doritos Locos Tacos a day for 30 days.

What Comes With Subway's Footlong Pass?

The latest food chain to wade into the world of subscription is Subway. The popular sandwich chain known for its "Eat Fresh" slogan has remained private since launching as Pete's Super Submarines out of Connecticut in 1965.

Another limited-time promotion, the Footlong Pass will cost $15 and give holders 50% off its full-size sandwiches throughout September.

The pass will go on sale on August 24 and be available for the 10,000 people who get it first. To get it, one also has to be part of Subway's MyRewards loyalty program.

Known for its customizable footlong sandwiches, Subway was extremely popular throughout the 1990s and 2000s as a healthier alternative to fast food but has lately struggled, first because of ex-spokesman Jared Fogle's downfall, and today amid an explosion of new fast casual options.

Over the last year, the chain has also struggled to shake off a lawsuit claiming that its description of "100% tuna" was false and actually contained traces of chicken, pork, and cattle.

Is Taco Bell's Model A Good One?

The economics of any kind of subscription or pass toe a fine line at a time of rampant food inflation. The Bureau of Labor Statistics found that butter and margarine are now 26% more expensive than in August 2021, while lunch meats and bread are up a respective 23.6% and 15.4%.

But if the economics calculated carefully, a pass can both generate customer and bring in profit. Taco Bell said that only 1% of those who bought its pass took it to its limits and had a free taco every single day it was valid. 

"We've seen exactly what we hoped we would: customers who had the pass increased their visits to Taco Bell three times more compared to when they didn't have the pass," Chief Digital Officer Zipporah Allen told TheStreet in a February interview. "Twenty percent of the passes that we sell are completely new customers that are coming into the Taco Bell rewards program and formalizing their membership with the brand."