Subway Passes McDonald’s as Largest Fast Food Chain

Posted: March 10, 2011 in Brand management

IT’S a sandwich chain that has shops on a riverboat, in a church and even at a military base in Afghanistan.

When I was in secondary school, I used to go McDonald’s at least two times a week with my friends even without knowing the brand “Subway” because of not only high prices but also its rarity in our country. Especially, my favorite was McChicken menu which included a hamburger with chicken, french fries I dunked in in ketchup and mayonaisse and an iced drink. However, when I have grown up and become more conscious about my health and physical appearance, I changed my eating habits by much less eating in McDonald’s.

Ever since documentaries like “Super Size Me” came out, it was only a matter of time until McDonald’s would be knocked off the pedestal as the most prominent fast food chain. According to the Wall Street Journal, McDonald’s is no longer at the top of the fast food world. French fries, burgers and thick shakes are no longer the “in demand” menu around the world. The Wall Street Journal reports that Subway – the home of the calorie-laden Meatball Marinara sub – has overtaken McDonald’s as the world’s biggest fast food outlet in terms of units. The journal also stated “At the end of last year, Subway had 33,749 restaurants worldwide, compared to McDonald’s 32,737.”

I believe that this is more of a trend as the increasing obesity rate around the world, especially in the United States, is making people grow more health-conscientious every year. With the constant push for healthier eating and exercise in the global media coverage, people have started to re-evaluate their eating habits. It is also obvious that stores like Whole Foods are growing and consumers are demanding better quality food without the use of added hormones or antibiotics.

Subway, aware of this situation, has made a huge marketing move and launched “Jared’s Subway Diet” marketing campaign by jumping on the weight loss bandwagon.  The commercial of this campaign featured Jared Fogel as a 425-pound man who lost 245 pounds in one year by eating two Subway sandwiches a day. The promotion of this ‘diet’  also continued with other commercials including prominent athletes which showed people how much healthier their subs are compared to other fast food giants, and this was the idea that made people push Subway over McDonald’s.

However, another marketing ad campaign – the 5 dollar foot long sub song – might be responsible for this recent success as well as lower prices. Matthew Boyle of Businessweek states, “In fact, the $3.8 billion in sales generated nationwide by the $5 footlong alone placed it among the top 10 fast-food brands in the U.S. for the year ended in August, according to NPD Group.”

It seems that as consumers we are creating the healthful era. Given the prominence of the Subway brand and its association with healthy eating, McDonald’s has also shifted its menu slightly to include more healthy options, especially in the “Happy Meals” for kids within the last few years. You can order a few different types of salads, parfaits, fruit and maple oatmeal, and healthier sides such as mandarin oranges instead of french fries. Although both restaurants have healthy and unhealthy options, Subway surely is growing fast and taking a leaf out of its rival’s book by creating the stronger association with healthy eating. “We don’t see ourselves as having the most healthy products but we offer a range.” says Trevor Haynes, boss of the UK branch of the organisation.

Subway has the advantage in that they have never offered greasy, typical fast food. They offer fresh baked breads, meats, and a huge variety of vegetables. The side order option used to be just chips, but they have expanded that to now include apples, yogurt, and a large variety of baked chips. Soda is still the drink of choice for most, but Subway does also offer water, juice, and milk. Furthermore, Mr Haynes says the Subway model of allowing customers to pick and choose what goes in their sandwich means they are in control of what they eat.

It seems that Subway will grow not only in stores around the world but also in profits if the trends toward a healtier lifestyle continue. Also, there is a possibility that other restaurants like Subway will come on the scene overtaking the giants like McDonald’s. Who will stay competitive in the healthy eating movement will determine the winner on the battlefield.

After all, I still believe that cooking your own food with homegrown vegetables will always be the healthiest meal you can eat.

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