Subway has given McDonald’s a good thumping.
About a year ago Subway surpassed the long time leader in restaurant count, and McDonald’s has been choking on Subway’s dust ever since with a mere 33,000+ locations to Subway’s nearly 36,000.
Subway owes much of its success to its image as a healthy alternative to the traditional fast food meal of burger and fries. The chain gets a lot of traction from its ‘Eat Fresh’ slogan, and especially from an innovative ad campaign promoting a weight loss angle through spokesman Jared Fogle who reportedly lost 245 pounds by exercising and eating only Subway sandwiches. The company now has a lucrative hold on the minds of fast food eaters as the virtuous option.
According to the marketing researchers at Decision Analyst, more Subway customers than any other quick-serve restaurant patrons (42%, versus a low of 3% for Taco Bell) choose the restaurant because of its selection of healthy offerings. Subway also rates highest in consumer trust; in fact it’s the only one of these restaurant with more people who ‘completely trust’ their nutritional claims than ’do not trust’ them (again, Taco Bell is in the cellar with just 7.5% of consumers putting faith in their claims).
Subway says its better, and we believe it’s better, but is it really?
The truth is, you can eat a low-cal, low-fat meal at either chain, albeit one loaded with hormones, pesticides, preservatives, and sodium. Both chains offer their share of options, though McDonald’s selection of snack-sized wraps and salads feels meager and skimpy next to Subway’s assortment of meal-sized 300 calorie subs. But Subway more than holds its fat-laden own when it comes to core menu items. The chain’s top-seller is the B.M.T., short for Biggest, Meatiest, Tastiest; the 6 inch version, at 450 calories, is on par with McDonald’s Big ‘N Tasty, and the best-selling meatball marinara sub, also in the small size, tops the Big Mac by an (un)healthy margin. Opt for a 12 incher- even chicken or tuna- and you can be eating a thousand-calorie sandwich. Get it on Subway’s honey oat roll and the bread alone snags you more than 500 calories.
Researchers have also found something they call a ‘health halo’ associated with a Subway meal. Consumers are so familiar with Subway’s claims as the healthier choice that they will underestimate the calories they are actually consuming. The misperception that they are being ‘good’ influences them to be ‘bad’ with other food choices: studies have shown Subway diners to be more inclined to justify an order of chips or dessert, and one study’s participants ended up consuming 56% more calories than those eating at McDonald’s.
Basically, eating at any fast food restaurant is like jumping out of a window. It doesn’t really matter if it’s the 30th floor or the 40th; the net effect to your health will be pretty much the same.