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FAST-FOOD CHAINS EXPAND MENUS

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To keep pace with competitors and with customers' changing lifestyles, fast-food franchises are posting new offerings on their menu boards.

Chains are chasing each other into the value- and light-menu markets. In some areas, McDonald's now sells pizza. Chick-Fil-A recently introduced broiled chicken touted as lower in fat and calories.Arby's has a traditional East Coast sandwich made of thinly sliced meat, cheese and salad fixings on a long, slender roll - a hoagie, or submarine.

Arby's is calling its sandwich a sub in part because it is hoping to borrow some of the success of Subway Sandwiches, the fastest-growing sandwich chain in the United States.

"This is a large growth category," says Arby's spokesman Mark L. Stine. Arby's intends to take command of the submarine business with the rollout of its Sub Shop: roast beef, turkey, tuna and Italian subs. Arby's has 2,500 restaurants and $1.5 billion in annual sales.

Industry growth has been stagnant as tight-fisted consumers weeded out restaurants that didn't offer price promotions, according to a recent issue of Restaurant Business.

Much of the expansion in franchises has come from abroad. One of Arby's highest-grossing stores is in Mexico, Stine says.

But Subway has defied today's norms, the number of its shops growing 23.3 percent last year to 6,400 - compared with Arby's 4.7 percent.

"I'm sure they (Subway) will be No. 2 in units after McDonald's in another year," says Millie Lemajich of the Restaurant Consulting Group in Evanston, Ill.

Subway has opened about 1,000 units a year for three years, so it isn't any wonder Arby's is following that chain into the hoagie business, Lemajich says.

"I have a funny feeling others will be jumping on that bandwagon," she says.

Jumping onto Subway's bandwagon isn't a big leap for Arby's. Its roast beef sandwiches helped the chain position itself as an alternative to hamburgers.

Subway, meanwhile, has no plans to change its offerings or marketing strategy to fend off the challenger.