By James Stockton
As Americans wage war on obesity, a restaurant chain that challenges its customers to “eat fresh” has become the largest food chain in the world.
Subway, which has been the largest fast food chain in America for the last nine years, overtook McDonald’s earlier this year with over 33,000 stores worldwide. This is approximately 1,000 more stores than McDonald’s.
“The trend of customers is they want healthier options,” Kevin Kane, manager of public relations for Subway worldwide, said. “[Our goal is to] provide the nutritional info so people can make more informed meal decisions.”
Subway has always been advertised as the healthy alternative to other fast food restaurants, but according to Kane, it was never Subway’s intent to be the healthy choice. Instead they aimed to give customers more choices in what they could eat.
Dr. Suzy Weems, chair of the family and consumer sciences department at Baylor, analyzes nutrition as a registered dietitian and agrees with the increase in options on restaurant menus.
“Fast food is probably something that’s here because of the lifestyle that Americans have chosen to live,” Weems said. “I do see that at most of those fast food restaurants you’re seeing a better option choice on their menus.”
McDonald’s and similar fast food restaurants are popular because of their convenience and good-tasting food, but there is an overall unhealthy perception of fast food in America.
“We were kind of offering healthier options before it was cool,” Kane said.
Although Subway has been at the forefront of healthier fast food, other restaurants – such as McDonald’s – have adapted to consumer wants and are as successful as ever.
“It’s all about delicious choices,” states the McDonald’s website. “From our team of registered dietitians to our trusted suppliers, we’re dedicated to making you feel good about choosing McDonald’s foods and beverages.”
But while Subway has more units, McDonald’s is still the cash cow of restaurant chains, making more than $24 billion last year as compared to Subway’s $15.2 billion.
This statistic may be credited to McDonald’s’s advertising and branding.
Weems cited a study which shows children recognize the McDonald’s and Starbucks symbols the most.
“That just says that’s where the parents were going, that’s where the caregivers were taking those children,” Weems said.
Weems also said parents shouldn’t be blamed for feeding their children so much fast food.
“It’s the adult who determines what a child is offered; it’s the child who decides how much of it they’re going to eat,” Weems said, quoting a statement from Ellyn Satter, an author who teaches families how to eat.
But as the shift to healthier food is made, the affect on children must begin with change in parental care.
“Parents are becoming a lot more aware of the impact that they actually have [on a child’s food choices],” Weems said.
Subway says its main focus is to give parents and children better choices.
“Because of the ease of operation, we’re able to fit into locations other stores can’t,” Kane said, giving examples of locations on a riverboat in Germany and in a Goodwill store in South Carolina.
As Subway continues to grow, perhaps Jared will become the new Ronald McDonald.