SANDWICH chain Subway is planning a massive expansion in Ireland, including the creation of 1,800 new jobs.
The Connecticut-headquartered company, the world's largest sandwich chain, said it will target non-traditional locations including hospitals, universities and petrol stations under proposals to open more than 180 stores in Ireland over the next six years.
Some 400 of these vacancies should be filled by the end of this year.
The move should provide a boost to the country's beef farmers as well as jobseekers. Subway's Republic stores use 100pc Irish beef.
Its ambitious plans are dependent on franchisees, since Subway stores, like McDonalds, are independently owned and operated as a franchise. However, a spokesperson said that the company's Irish growth rate had been so impressive that the goals were realistic.
There are now 117 Subways in the Republic in total, after 16 opened in 2013 alone.
They employ 809 (full-time equivalent) employees. The chain's 1,700th Ireland and UK store opened recently in Douglas, Co Cork.
Some 40 more stores are scheduled for 2014. The company said this would involve an investment of €5m.
It is understood that most of the jobs will be low paying. Wages paid to Subway staff, some of whom the company describes as "sandwich artists", are determined by the individual franchise owner and not Subway. However, the company did say that all of its stores adhere to minimum wage standards.
A Subway "sandwich artist" job advertised for Cork city in 2012 paid €8.65 per hour.
Ireland and the UK is Subway's biggest market outside of North America and its Irish business is growing at a faster rate than its UK business. This has been driven, it said, by the introduction of a more varied breakfast menu and longer opening hours.
In another move, Subway has rolled out a series of healthier products of late in an effort to target weight-conscious customers and deflect criticism of its higher calorie offerings.