Subway was recently named the top quick serve for health-conscious consumers , and the chain has long carried a health halo for its menu offerings and customizable format.
Tony Pace, senior vice president and chief marketing officer of the Subway Franchisee Advertising Fund Trust, spoke with QSR’s Sam Oches about how Subway’s healthy image plays into the marketing efforts for its more than 24,000 U.S. stores.
How important is it today for Subway to communicate the healthy message?
“It’s always been a part of who we are. The expectation on the part of consumers is that you’re continuously trying to improve [your health offerings], which we are. I would say it’s as important, if not more important, than ever before. It’s one strategic platform that we have. We obviously have a pretty well-known value strategic platform with our famous $5 Footlongs, and we also have more indulgent subs. Those are really the three big strategic message pillars that we are always balancing in terms of reaching out to the consumer audience.”
What are some best practices in selling the health message to consumers without scaring them off?
“To some degree, you can lead with the surprise of, ‘Hey, you know you love this sub.’ So … ‘you know you love roast beef, aren’t you surprised that it’s low in fat?’ To us, there’s power in the surprise of what is indeed low in fat, and it’s not as much of a sacrifice as you would think. A lot of folks think if they’re going to eat healthy, then they’ve got to eat rice cakes and that sort of stuff, which is pretty short on flavor. We think there are lots of ways to drive taste and flavor. If you look at all of the veggies that are available at Subway, when you get to things like avocado, which is smooth and creamy, or you get to cucumber, which has got great texture and great crunch to it, or some of the various peppers, which have some spice to them, all of that stuff is flavorful, but it doesn’t have bad caloric or fat content to them.”
Subway has several partnerships with health organizations, such as the one with the American Heart Association. How are these partnerships important to Subway?
“The partnerships work in a couple of good ways for us. … Because Subway has lots of good healthful options, I think its beneficial to those organizations to reinforce the fact that Subway is an easy step for people to take. We’re so prevalent in terms of North American footprint, in terms of number of stores—over 24,000 restaurants in the United States—it’s easy to find a Subway and it’s easy to eat something healthy inside a Subway. That benefits them.
“From our viewpoint, it’s always good to be working in concert with the practitioners of health, because they can always add their perspective, which frankly helps us as we think about the next level of thing that we need to be doing. I’ve been talking about fat, but calories are important, sodium is important, and as you’re a part of those conversations, you see where health professionals are trending. As we are aware, that helps you have some insight into what the conversation is going to be. It gives us a line of sight into things we need to be exploring going forward.”
With Subway’s explosive growth across different countries and regions—which tend to have different food values—how do you sustain a consistent healthy message?
“There is different development and different attentiveness to health in different regions of the country. But it’s interesting to find, especially among teenagers and younger, they’re much more into health across the board regardless of geography, than even their older brothers and sisters and certainly their parents. The attentiveness to health at the younger age is greater than it’s ever been, and that’s not linked to one particular geography.”