Chicken accounted for more than 18 percent of the sandwiches sold at Subway’s 29,900 North American units in 2014. But in response to consumer demand, the Milford, Conn.-based chain decided to reduce the sodium in the popular protein, says Lanette Kovachi, Subway’s dietitian. So R&D worked with the supplier to lower the salt and ramp up the flavor. The new grilled chicken strips debuted in an LTO sandwich in January.
A cleaner label
The message that Subway’s menu was healthier than other fast-food outlets was challenged by a blogger’s social media campaign. In response, the chain announced in 2014 that it would start removing preservatives and artificial colors and flavors from its products and lower sodium. In reformulating the chicken, the team went to the source, purchasing an all-natural, antibiotic-free breast.
The supplier marinates the chicken in broth and seasonings according to Subway’s proprietary recipe; it comes into the stores cooked and cut into strips. To drive home a more healthful message, visible grill marks are imparted during the cooking process, says Kovachi.
Subway’s chef, Chris Martone, tapped ingredients already in house to round out the sandwich. He liked the way a Monterey Jack-cheddar blend paired with the chicken, and the combo was well received in market tests, says Kovachi. To keep the calorie count under 600 (the Subway limit), he specs five ounces of chicken and an ounce of cheese per footlong sub and holds the mayo. The six-inch size is 360 calories.
Pile on the veggies
“We see a lot of people using sliced cucumbers with turkey, so we tried them with the chicken,” says Kovachi. The cukes added contrasting crunch for very few calories, she says. Fresh spinach (favored by Martone for its flavor and nutritive value), tomatoes and red onion provide color and texture.
The goal is to expand the chicken strips across the menu, says Kovachi. In May, Subway will introduce a sandwich pairing the protein with guacamole and other ingredients still in test.