Subway exec details new Heart-Check pilot

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Earlier this month, Subway Restaurants and the American Heart Association teamed up on a two-year pilot program to see if the AHA’s Heart-Check certification mark, a label indicating that packaged goods meet the association’s nutrition requirements, could also work in restaurants.

Subway submitted several of its sandwiches to the AHA for nutritional analysis, and the Fresh Fit line of six-inch subs, served with apple slices and water, met its standards for number of calories and levels of sodium, cholesterol, saturated fat and trans fats in a meal. Now customers will see a new Heart-Check Meal Certification logo by those items on Subway’s menu boards.

During the test period, the AHA will perform spot checks, analyzing items with their logo.

“We want to make it as easy as possible for people to get the healthiest food they can consume,” said AHA spokeswoman Alice Lichtenstein, who is also a professor at Tufts University’s Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy. “We have very strict criteria that Subway was able to meet because they’re so standardized,” she added.

Nation’s Restaurant News recently spoke with Subway chief marketing officer Tony Pace to discuss the new certification and the 37,000-unit chain’s summer plans.

How did this program with the AHA come about?

We’ve worked with the AHA on a number of programs for about 12 years now. We’ve been having discussions with them about this kind of possibility for a number of years. We’ve done research online to see if consumers would notice the Heart-Check symbol and if it would have meaning for them.

We submitted several of our sandwiches, and you can see the ones that passed muster and got the Heart-Check certification on the menu.

It makes things simpler when it comes to ordering healthy menu options, which we think in the long term is a good thing.

Is it too early to tell how the logo has affected sales?

I would surmise that the real help there is not the initial news that you have the Heart-Check logo, but that seeing it over and over again might increase awareness, and the frequency at which [health-conscious customers] come to Subway.

We’re a pretty simple place — a pretty simple way of letting people eat better — and the Heart-Check just brings that to the fore.

Are many of your customers particularly health-conscious?

It can go back and forth a little bit. We have a very broad offering of healthy products. It’s roughly half of our business.

What’s really grown is the stuff that is on the healthy side, but not on the lowest level of calories — like a veggie melt, which is just melted cheese and vegetables. It’s a darn good sandwich and the nutrition profile is pretty darn good. It’s not going to get the health check, but it’s something that people are going to enjoy eating.

Our customers might put a flourish on something to give it some taste, but it’s still close to the lower sodium/cholesterol/fat numbers [of a Heart-Check item], and in the grand scheme of things it’s pretty darn good [health wise]. The notion that we constantly have to push back against is that if it tastes good it has to be bad for you.

What’s on Subway’s horizon?

On July 1 we’re launching a new Heart-Check sandwich. It’s a spinach, turkey and avocado sandwich. A six-inch [version of the] sandwich without cheese has seven grams of fat. After that, we’re doing an ultimate veggie, which is going to have avocado.

Contact Bret Thorn at bret.thorn@penton.com.
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