What’s in a footlong sub? Apparently, it better measure a full 12 ins., as Subway found out last month. The 38,691-unit Milford-Conn. based sandwich chain has been in the midst of a customer uproar over the length of its famous, and trademarked, “Subway Footlong” sandwich.
It all started when a customer in Australia placed his footlong sandwich next to a tape measure, and it came up an inch short. He posted a picture on Subway’s Facebook page, and asked the company to respond. The story quickly went viral. Customers all over the world began measuring their own footlong subs, and, unfortunately, many were coming up short. It all culminated in a lawsuit filed in New Jersey at the end of January. The lawyer for the two plaintiffs is said to be seeking class-action status.
When the story first broke, Subway responded in a statement that the size discrepancy was due to the bread being baked fresh, on-site in each of its locations. The statement read in part: “The length however may vary slightly when not baked to our exact specifications. We are reinforcing our policies and procedures in an effort to ensure our offerings are always consistent no matter which Subway restaurant you visit.” If the proper procedures are followed, each sub will measure 12 ins.
Now, as bakers, you know that any little thing going wrong during the handling and baking of bread dough can greatly affect the outcome. And, you know how hard it can be for even a single-unit bakery to get staff to follow correct procedures. Imagine trying to replicate that across more than 38,000 stores in 100 different countries.
I’m sure the company was hoping the hubbub would die down after issuing the statement. Subway Australia went so far as to say on its Facebook page that “with regard to the size of the bread and calling it a footlong, Subway Footlong is a registered trademark as a descriptive name for the sub sold in Subway restaurants and not intended as a measurement of length. The length of the bread baked in the restaurant cannot be assured each and every time as the proofing process may vary slightly each time in the restaurant.”
A very reasonable explanation in baking terms, but when dealing with the public that feels it has been cheated, reason doesn’t always factor in. And, by claiming a sandwich is a foot long, it really should be 12 ins. in length. Ask any wholesale baker about the headaches involving accurate product size and weight for packaged bakery products.
So, while it is completely understandable that the length of a sub bun would differ due to variances in dough handling and baking, the company does spend a lot of time marketing its “$5 footlong.” And, anytime you make a definitive statement about something, you can bet that there are consumers out there with enough time on their hands who are going to try to prove you don’t live up to the promise–as Subway found out. Two weeks after the original Facebook post, the company did issue an apology.
But customers will be measuring their sandwiches for years. If you make a promise, you better meet expectations.