Subway Cutting Sodium in Sandwiches

Discussion
Apr 19, 2011
George Anderson

Subway has built its business by positioning itself as a
healthier alternative to the typical fast food outlet. Now the chain is looking
to up the ante with the announcement it will reduce sodium in its Fresh Fit
sandwich line by 28 percent versus 2009 levels. Subway also said that sodium
would be cut by 15 percent on the rest of its sandwiches.

"We felt it was important to take this leadership role in terms of sodium
reduction," said Tony Pace, Subway franchisee advertising fund chief
marketing officer. "This is another manifestation of Subway’s mission
to provide consumers with an abundance of made-to-order, flavorful and nutritious
choices that they’ll enjoy eating."

The announced reductions by Subway
were part of the company’s commitment to the National Salt Reduction Initiative
(NSRI). The sandwich chain has met 2012 sodium benchmarks for the NSRI and
said it would meet goals set for 2014.

"It’s great to see large companies like Subway reducing sodium levels,"
Michael Jacobson, executive director at the Center for Science in the Public
Interest, told USA Today. "Hopefully, this won’t be the end of the
journey for Subway. They should try to bring it down by 50 percent."

Discussion Questions: Will Subway’s sodium reduction effort give it a lead in the public’s perception of the chain as a nutritious foodservice option? What is your analysis of Subway’s positioning in the marketplace?

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15 Comments on "Subway Cutting Sodium in Sandwiches"


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Paula Rosenblum
Guest
10 years 18 days ago

Our research (and others’) seems to indicate that most consumers are not demanding healthier products. It’s more like governments are starting to demand it, and once the products are available, people buy them.

I wish it were different, but it’s true. So kudos to Subway for taking a leading role here.

David Livingston
Guest
10 years 18 days ago

I’ve always put them at the top of my list for nutrition. No grease and a lot of veggies. Never gave their sodium content a second thought.

Max Goldberg
Guest
10 years 18 days ago

Subway’s Jared campaign successfully differentiated the company from other QSRs and greatly increased sales. It positioned Subway as a healthy alternative to the McDonald’s, Burger Kings and Wendy’s of the world. Then Subway seemed to change its message to indulgence, moved back to healthy eating, and lately seems to be about indulgence again, all under the umbrella of $5 Foot Long or breakfast. It will be interesting to see how their sodium campaign is positioned. Will it be healthy eating or invite consumers to feel less guilty about indulging their appetites?

Anne Howe
Guest
10 years 18 days ago

I love the Subway concept for flavor and personalization, but since I have to watch sodium, I’ve literally all but stopped eating there. I’m excited to hear of the lower sodium initiative and I think the positioning could easily be personalization. Whether indulgent or healthy, the umbrella concept of “have it your way” is open to consumer interpretation. It might be nice to see some healthy alternatives for sides, such as a fresh apple. I’d be all over a few more choices besides carbs in a bag.

Kudos to Subway for keeping it fresh on the marketing side.

Bill Emerson
Guest
Bill Emerson
10 years 18 days ago

Paula is right on the money. This is not about consumers demanding healthier food. If they wanted that, they could stay home and eat tofu. This is about a government-sponsored group of academics broadcasting their view on how everyone else should live.

Any cook will tell you flavor comes from the big three–fat, sugar, and salt. Take these away and you’ve got, well, tasteless food, not exactly a great recipe for success in the QSR industry. While I do believe that QSRs should not try to hide what’s in their offerings, I also believe that the consumer is not a 4 year old and doesn’t need another nanny making food choices for them.

Ryan Mathews
Guest
10 years 18 days ago

Max has nailed it.

You don’t go to a QSR because you are worried about health, but you might go to an individual QSR because it allows you to think you are eating better.

I remember reading an article that suggested that “$5 Foot Long” had become a brand in and of itself, exclusive of Subway.

If that’s true, I think we see what’s really compelling about the brand promise.

Al McClain
Guest
Al McClain
10 years 18 days ago

I think this may be a bit of a disconnect for many consumers. Like David, I just assumed (dangerous) that Subway was a healthy, alternative fast food. Looking at their nutrition board, I picked what had the lowest fat and fewest calories, and “seemed” the healthiest. Never thought about sodium content, just figuring it had a lot of veggies, etc. so it had to be good. So, while they get kudos for lowering sodium content, I’ll bet a lot of consumers are going to be surprised how high it was, and still is, in the first place. Toss in the automatic bag of chips on the side, and it’s really up there.

Ed Rosenbaum
Guest
10 years 18 days ago

Subway has certainly differentiated themselves from the typical quick serve restaurant. They should keep their focus and promotions more to the Jarred healthy weight conscious than to the $5.00 foot longs. They are not going to become the next McDonald’s or Wendy’s. But they certainly will take portions of the market share from them by this difference and keeping the spotlight on it.

Tina Lahti
Guest
Tina Lahti
10 years 18 days ago

I share Anne Howe’s experience. My husband was told to watch his sodium and as a result he and I stopped eating at Subway. According to Subway’s web site a 6″ turkey sub has 810 mg of sodium. A burger and small fries at McDonald’s has 680 combined. The difference is that if I ordered a burger and fries at McDonald’s I assumed that I was indulging. To Bill Emerson’s point; it is a now a rare occasion that I eat fast food. I have switched to home-made lunches, though not often tofu.

Gene Detroyer
Guest
10 years 18 days ago

This could be a Sustainable Competitive Advantage for Subway. Sodium adds flavor. A mere 3 oz. McDonald’s hamburger has over 500mg of sodium. How much can they take out without affecting the flavor? Not 28%. Not likely 15%.

Subway, with its sandwich additions can add real flavor making up for the cut in sodium. We all talk price in Fast Food pricing, but there has to be some semblance of flavor. It appears Subway’s strategy might be untouchable.

Mel Kleiman
Guest
10 years 18 days ago

It is not about what the panel thinks, it is what the customer perceived and felt. Subway has done a great job of making the customer feel they are a healthier alternative.

This is just one more initiative that will continue to build their position as a better choice.

Camille P. Schuster, PhD.
Guest
10 years 18 days ago

Many consumers will be shocked at the amount of salt in the current sandwiches and then be happy that Subway is proactively doing something about it to make them “healthier.” Subway gained a huge following with the “healthy” perception and may be trying to go back to this perception unless it will point out how “unhealthy” their sandwiches have been.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest
10 years 18 days ago

I suppose how this goes over with consumers will depend on whether they see it as “even healthier than before” or “less dangerous than it used to be.”

John Frank
Guest
John Frank
10 years 18 days ago

Subway has done a good job marketing itself as a healthy alternative to burgers but the reality has not always backed up that claim, as I’ve written about many times on my blog.

With this announcement, it brings reality closer but even the reduced sodium levels it announced are too high for someone like me fighting high blood pressure. When I go to Subway, I opt for a salad. But I think most consumers don’t think about it and the threat of government regulation is what’s behind this move.

Odonna Mathews
Guest
Odonna Mathews
10 years 6 days ago

Healthy eating is not about eating tofu, but it’s about offering a variety of healthy alternatives, all clearly labeled with nutrition information for those who want to know what they are eating. As more and more fast food restaurants are posting nutrition information, consumers can more easily see the differences and make their own decisions. Reducing sodium is a significant step in improving healthful choices and Subway is to be commended.

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