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Is Subway — the US fast-food sandwich chain whose motto is “Eat Fresh” — growing a little stale in its home country?

The company confirmed on Thursday that it had closed hundreds of locations in the US last year, the first time it had a net reduction of sandwich shops in America.

Its US store count went down 1.3 per cent last year to 26,774 from 27,103 in 2015. It is the first year that it saw a net reduction in its US store count, although the company said that it saw a net gain of 296 restaurants worldwide.

The news from the private company was first reported by Bloomberg.

Subways said that US sales dipped last year by an unspecified amount to $11.3bn. International sales, however, grew 3.7 per cent to $5.8bn.

The company said in a statement:

“Going into 2017, we are undertaking an exciting transformation that includes introducing new and improved products, creating an even greater customer experience, refining operations, and positioning Subway franchisees for continued success. We are confident these enhancements will position us for long-term growth.”

Subway is scrambling to hang onto its position at the front of the pack of the fast-evolving US fast-food industry, in the face of changing consumer tastes and rising competition from fast-casual chains like Chipotle and Panera that aim to offer healthier fare — a niche that Subway has occupied in contrast to burger joints like McDonald’s or Burger King.

Earlier this week, it announced that it was launching a bot to allow customers to order from its restaurants via Facebook’s Messenger app.

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