For a large proportion of people around the world, a sub is an easy, cheap and filling lunch option. All you have to do is look out for the yellow and green signs – and if you live in a city, almost anywhere in the world, it’s guaranteed that you’ll be quick to spot one. The concept of fast food sandwiches might seem strange, if we stopped to think about it. Indeed, it comes closer to what you might make yourself at home, grabbing anything that you have left in the fridge and popping it between two slices of bread. And hey, it’s a sandwich – it’s not saturated with sugar or soaked in oil, branching out from the classic burgers-chips-and-a-coke fast food offers. Subway uses the advertising slogan ‘Eat Fresh’, focusing on the fact that their sandwiches are made from ‘freshly baked’ bread and ‘fresh’ ingredients. How bad can it be when you, the customer, are able to witness the ‘Subway Sandwich Artists’ (as Subway ambitiously calls them) pull together your sandwich according to your exact specifications?
As Subway quickly grows to become one of the biggest chains in the world today, this article explores both the good and the bad about the ubiquitous sandwich bar. Despite the fact that the brand is now pervading our consciousness almost as much as McDonald’s or Coca Cola, most of know very little about Subway and the people behind it. Subway has a lot going for it – from the way that it came about to the service that it offers. The chain has, however, also attracted quite a bit of bad press: from its claims of being a ‘healthy’ choice to the realisation that a dangerous chemical was found in its bread, to the complaints that those foot long subs just aren’t quite long enough, we’re taking a look at the good, the bad, and the ugly of Subway.
The mixed bag of success and downfalls might help you to decide whether or not Subway will be your number one choice on your next lunch break. Bon appétit!
5. A student’s get-rich-quick scheme struck gold
Fred deLuca was probably that kid selling lemonade at the side of the road to make himself a little bit of pocket money. Subway was deLuca’s brain-child as he approached the end of his high school days. Far from intending to found an internationally successful fast food chain, deLuca’s initial project was a get-quick-rich scheme, that he embarked on in the hope of making enough money to be able to afford to go to medical school.
Subway’s co-founder Peter Buck was a family friend from whom Fred borrowed the initial $1,000 start-up money. It was 1965 when Fred set up ‘Pete’s Super Submarines’ in Bridgeport, Connecticut – the first restaurant of what was to become the Subway chain. When deLuca and Buck saw that business was doing well, they formed the Doctors Associates, Inc. to oversee operations of the restaurants as the franchise began to expand. Understandably, with business success in sight, the idea of going to med school was out the window for deLuca.
4. There are more Subways stores in the world than McDonalds
With Subway on its way to world domination, Ronald McDonald has had to take the back seat in the fast food empire. For decades, the big yellow M has dominated the global urban landscape. There was – and still is – practically no town or country deprived of McChicken produce. Over the past ten years however, Subway has steadily been catching up, and since 2011 Subway officially tops McDonald’s as the largest food outlet on the planet. Today, McDonald’s boasts 35, 000 outlets in 119 countries, but Subway is well ahead of its game with 41, 827 outlets in 106 countries. Last year 150 stores opened in the UK and Ireland alone – bringing the total number of outlets in these countries to over 1, 700. As a result, the company is planning on almost doubling the number of its outlets in the UK and Ireland to 3, 000 over the next six years, creating approximately 13, 000 new jobs. This comes as a great relief at a time of high unemployment and national financial difficulty.
While McDonald’s is still the biggest fast food advertiser in the U.S. Subway comes a close second-biggest. In 2012 it spent $516 million on measurable advertising .
3. The Subway diet works
Subway prides itself on its selection of healthy options. ‘Eat Fresh’ as the slogan goes. Indeed the company is committed to calorie labeling, salt reduction, an increased offering of fruit and vegetables, non use of artificial trans fats, and saturated fat reductions. That’s more than many other fast food chains can say.
Although it is easy to raise an eyebrow at any fast food restaurant’s claim to health awareness, Subway got lucky when an obese American student named Jared Fogle lost 245 pounds in the late ’90s – having put himself on a crash diet that granted him fame and made him the face of Subway advertising. Fogle survived on a diet of coffee every morning for breakfast, a six-inch turkey sub at lunchtime, and a foot-long veggie sub for his dinner. This has proved to be great for Subway’s publicity, just as Supersize Me was devastating for McDonald’s. Fogle is the face of Subway’s longest-running advertising campaign: it has been 15 years since Fogle had his first sub (no cheese, no mayo) and he has been keeping the weight off.
2. The foot-longs aren’t really a foot long
When Australian teen Matt Corby posted on Facebook claiming that the Subway foot-long fell short of the length at 11 inches instead of 12, a wave of controversy followed. Two lawsuits in New Jersey and one in Chicago placed Subway under legal attack for failing to fulfill the foot-long promise. ‘Foot long is not intended to be a measurement of length’ the company at first retorted. However, in January of 2013, Subway changed its tune: in a statement to the Chicago Tribune, a spokesperson for the company tried to appease customers guaranteeing that ‘we have redoubled our efforts to ensure consistency and correct length in every sandwich we serve. Our commitment remains steadfast to ensure that every Subway footlong sandwich is 12 inches at each location worldwide.’ So if you decide to take your tape measure to your next sub you should be getting exactly a foot long series of mouthfuls.
1. Subway bread shared an ingredient with yoga mats
Most of us have happily munched away on bouncy, airy Subway bread in our time, wondering how they get that texture just right. Well, the secret’s out: Until February of this year, Subway had been using a chemical in its bread that is also used in yoga mats and shoe soles. How many subs had you consumed before that date?
Azodicarbonamide helps create air in yoga mats, and was used to do the same for Subway bread. When food blogger Vani Hari realised this, she began to petition that Subway stop using the chemical. She managed to gather over 50, 000 signatures in a petition drive. The World Health Organization has linked this chemical additive to number of health issues including respiratory problems, allergies and asthma, and it is banned in Europe and Australia. However, azodicarbonamide is legal in the United States and Canada. Perhaps strangely, the presence of this chemical in Subway bread wasn’t even concealed by the company – it was included on the ingredient labeling for all to see. This is a classic example of the old adage that if you can’t spell it or pronounce it, then you probably shouldn’t be eating it.