Eat fresher? Sub­way to drop ar­ti­fi­cial in­gre­di­ents


Sub­way wants to give new mean­ing to its “eat fresh” slo­gan by join­ing the list of food com­pa­nies to say it’s drop­ping ar­ti­fi­cial in­gre­di­ents.

The sand­wich chain known for its mar­ket­ing it­self as a health­ier al­ter­na­tive to ham­burger chains 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 pro­pri­onic 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 compa- nies, which are fac­ing pres­sure from smaller play­ers that tout their of­fer­ings as more whole­some. That has prompted so­called “Big Food” mak­ers in­clud­ing Taco Bell, McDon­ald’s, Kraft and Nestle to an­nounce in re­cent months they’re ex­pelling ar­ti­fi­cial in­gre­di­ents from one or more prod­ucts.

Sub­way’s an­nounce­ment comes at a chal­leng­ing time for the chain, which grew to be the world’s largest restau­rant brand by num­ber of lo­ca­tions with the help of weight loss pitch­man Jared Fogle.

The com­pany is pri­vately held and doesn’t dis­close sales fig­ures. But last year, sales for Sub­way stores in the U.S. av­er­aged US$475,000 each, a 3 per­cent decline from the pre­vi­ous year, ac­cord­ing to in­dus­try tracker Tech­nomic.

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.

Last year, Sub­way’s im­age took a hit when food ac­tivist Vani Hari, known as the Food Babe, launched a pe­ti­tion call­ing on it to re­move azodi­car­bonamide from its bread, not­ing the in­gre­di­ent was used in yoga mats. Sub­way has said that it was in the process of re­mov­ing the in­gre­di­ent, which is widely used as a dough con­di­tion and whiten­ing agent, be­fore the is­sue be­came a con­tro­versy.

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.


In this March 3 photo, work­ers make sand­wiches at a Sub­way sand­wich fran­chise in Seat­tle, Wash­ing­ton.

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