Over the years, we’ve come to associate Subway with its “Eat Fresh” slogan. The chain has always been portrayed as a healthier option, setting itself apart from burgers and chicken sandwiches and french fries. And we all remember Jared Fogle … the “Subway guy” who lost a significant amount of weight eating Subway turkey subs and has kept that weight off almost 20 years later. But even with all that, Subway has always been a fast food chain of sorts, fresher food or not, as evidenced by some of the not-so-healthy ingredients in their foods.
But Subway is also a chain that has listened to its consumers. In early 2014, Subway announced the removal of azodicarbonamide from its breads and rolls. That was a big step and went a long way to justify that “Eat Fresh” slogan.
Now Subway wants you to eat even fresher at its locations.
The sandwich chain told the Associated Press it will remove artificial flavors, colors and preservatives from its menu in North America by 2017. Whether that can help Subway keep up with changing attitudes about what qualifies as healthy remains to be seen.
Elizabeth Stewart, Subway’s director of corporate social responsibility, said in an interview that ingredient improvement has been an ongoing process over the years. More recently, she said the chain has been working on removing caramel color from cold cuts like roast beef and ham. For its turkey, Subway says it plans to replace a preservative called propionic acid with vinegar by the end of this year.
Among its toppings, Stewart said Subway is switching to banana peppers colored with turmeric instead of the artificial dye Yellow No. 5. Without providing details, she said the chain is also working on its sauces and cookies.
The purging of artificial ingredients is quickly becoming the norm among major food companies, which are facing pressure from smaller players that tout their offerings as more wholesome.
Subway is facing evolving definitions for what qualifies as healthy, said Darren Tristano, an analyst for Technomic. While older generations looked at nutritional stats like fat and calories, he said younger generations are more concerned about qualities like “local,” ”organic” and “natural.”
“Change has come so fast and rapidly, consumers are just expecting more and more,” Tristano said.
And although Subway markets itself as a fresher option, he noted that people don’t necessarily see it as the healthiest or best product around.
Tony Pace, Subway’s chief marketing officer, noted the chain is already seen as a place for low-fat options, but that it needs to keep up with changing customer attitudes.
“As their expectations go up, we have to meet those expectations,” he said.
Pace said the use of simple ingredients is becoming a “necessary condition” to satisfy customers, but that it won’t be enough on its own to drive up sales.
Subway is continuing to listen to the voices of its consumers. FoodFacts.com is confident that those consumers will appreciate their efforts to improve the quality and healthfulness of the foods they serve. Every food manufacturer, fast food chain and fast casual chain needs to remember the old adage, “the customer is always right,” and act accordingly.