(Jan. 26) Milford, Conn.-based Subway is in discussions to roll out its sliced apple packs nationwide.

Initially, Subway planned to launch the product March 12, but spokesman Les Winograd said that date has changed and the program is still under consideration.

Subway first introduced its apple offering in California during spring 2006.

“It’s a way to offer our customers a wider variety of healthier side options to match the healthy reputation of our sandwiches,” Winograd said. “They are sold separately, but they’re also part of the California Fit Kids and Adult meals.”

He said Subway’s California Fit program was developed to coincide with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signing legislation in 2006 to fight obesity and promote a healthier California.

“We have been supplying about 1,700 stores in California for Subway during the last year with Chiquita Fruit Bites, our sliced apple product,” said Michael Mitchell, spokesman for Chiquita Brands International Inc., Cincinnati. “The test has gone pretty well.”

Mitchell could not confirm Subway’s national expansion for the product or comment on units sold or the number of apples purchased.

Winograd said the Subway apple packs sold in the California stores consist of 2.4 ounces of sliced red and green apples with a suggested retail price of $1.29.

“The variety varies depending on the supplier’s availability and the growing season,” he said. “Some have been coming from Washington, but they can also come from different regions across the country and perhaps other countries, as well.”

With 27,115 stores in 86 countries, Subway is gaining on McDonalds Corp., Oakbrook, Ill., which has 31,000 stores in 119 countries.

If Subway does decide to take the California program nationwide, and Winograd said it looks like it might, the effect on the apple industry could be significant.

Last year, McDonald’s stocked 54 million pounds of pre-sliced apples to sell in the U.S. with its caramel dip or in salads.

Tony Freytag, marketing director at Crunch Pak, Cashmere, Wash., said the sliced apple category has grown from nothing five years ago to well in excess of $100 million today.

“We were the first to get into the category from a retail standpoint on a national basis in 2001,” he said. “Since then, others have gotten into the business, which is generally an indication that something is working. It continues to build.”

Subway may go national with sliced apple packs
With 50% more U.S. sites than McDonald’s, the Subway sandwich chain holds the potential for moving a high volume of fresh-cut fruit as it plans more sliced apple packs.