Subway expanding gluten-free test
Subway, a mediocre 3.4 AllergyEats allergy-friendliness chain, seems to be taking gluten-free quite seriously and is now expanding a test of gluten-free rolls and brownies started in January. That test, successfully run in the Dallas market, where Subway leadership includes individuals with Celiac disease, has now been expanded to some units in the Portland, OR market. Subway hopes to get all Portland units into the trial by the end of this month. According to Mark Christiano, the chain’s Baking Specialist in the R&D Department, “the possibility of Subway’s gluten-free tests expanding even further is real, but the process will be slow and meticulous.”
Slow and meticulous? But why? This is where I really like what the chain has to say.
First of all, Subway spent about three years developing the gluten-free offerings, but that seemed to be the easy part! More challenging was training the staff, which QSRweb.com says included “extensive instructions, presentations and demonstrations, as well as montly meetings to reiterate the adapted operational process.” Or as Christiano put it, “Having these items on the menu changes the entire way of doing things.”
How? Again I’ll defer to QSRweb.com.
“At Subway, once a gluten-free roll or brownie is ordered, the line staff is required to wipe down the entire counter and get rid of any crumbs in the vicinity. They’re then to wash their hands and change their gloves. The gluten-free rolls and brownies are pre-packaged on fresh deli paper, and a single-use, pre-packaged knife is used for cutting. The gluten-free sandwich is taken from order to point-of-sale by the same person, as opposed to being passed down the line in the traditional Subway format. Customers are able to watch the creation from start to finish.”
Elizabeth Smith, who runs the blog “The Dallas Celiac” has been “really impressed with the level of training Subway employees have on what to do to make a sandwich safe for me to eat.”
The “overwhelmingly positive” response Subway has received from customers, as well as the outpouring of requests for an expansion of the gluten-free test, reminds me of the reaction Pizzeria Uno’s former CFO described to me when they released gluten-free pizzas three years ago. In his opinion, there wasn’t much of a sales impact for Uno’s (which I would debate), but as he told me at the time, “We’ve never had a more well-received new product introduction.” Clearly, the gluten-free community is acting as its own best advocate, making restaurants aware that it appreciates the efforts these restaurants are making to accommodate the gluten-free population. Restaurants may read this as confirmation that they’re “doing the right thing,” but certainly as a sign that they can increase their sales. I do chuckle at comments by Subway’s manager of public relations, suggesting that the chain is not doing all of this to help boost their profits.
“We’re not judging these tests on sales, but instead on what we’re able to do for a handful of our customers and their feedback,” says Kevin Kane. “It’s not a money making thing; it’s just the right thing to do.”
Yes, I agree it’s the right thing to do, but let’s be straight – it’s a money-making thing. Don’t be shy, embarrassed, or apologetic about it. You’re in business to make money and I personally believe in the profit motive – just like your company and virtually every other one does. The gluten-free community has sent a message that you can expect their loyalty if you make the investment to deliver a good gluten-free product and you are responding in a fiscally appropriate manner. Win-win!
I applaud Subway on their efforts and hope to see a continuous, gradual roll-out of this test across the country. And hopefully their gluten-free training will also allow them to cater more positively to the food allergy community as well. It would be great to see an improvement in the AllergyEats allergy-friendliness score for this massive chain, driven by better knowledge of how to accommodate all of us with special dietary requirements – gluten-free or food allergy.
What do you think? Have you been one of the few to try Subway’s gluten-free products? Do you know others who have? What is your intuition telling you, based on your experiences with other chains. Please click Comments or Reply and share your thoughts.
Please also remember to rate any recent restaurant experiences you’ve had at our core AllergyEats site (www.allergyeats.com) or on our new AllergyEats mobile app (FREE for iPhone and Droid). Rating a restaurant only takes a minute, but is vital to continuously improving the value of AllergyEats for the entire food allergy and intolerance community. We’ve achieved a lot together over our first 18 months, but we have so much more still to go!