“Sneaky” Crisis for Sandwich Chain

Subway sandwiches and sneakers shared a common ingredient until consumer protest caused the company to change its ways.Would you like to snack on a sneaker? Or a yummy yoga mat? Sandwich chain Subway recently responded to customers who spoke out against the the company’s use of a food additive, which is also used to make sneakers springy.

Customers took to social media to protest the delicious sounding azodicarbonamide after being prompted by popular blogger Vani Hari of Foodbabe.com. Hari tried traditional customer service channels first, but ultimately used her blog to encourage readers to use social media to speak against the sandwich chain’s use of the additive. Hari’s petition quickly garnered thousands of signatures.

Hari was very skilled in how she crafted her message. By relating the additive to sneakers and yoga mats, she developed a concise, sticky message that was able to spread virally.

While Subway handled the crisis maturely by quickly removing the additive, the company claimed it was already planning to do so. Even if this is true, Subway missed an opportunity to demonstrate its ability to respond to customer concerns. And it raised questions about why the chain did not act sooner on its own. In a way, it stole its own thunder.

This also makes the strong case for solid crisis planning. A company should know its weak spots and proactively address them. How do you separate a potential crisis from a weird production quirk? Look at your key brand characteristics.

Subway’s tagline is “eat fresh.” The company projects its product as compatible with a healthy lifestyle. Bizarre food additives conflict with this image. Subway customers prefer to limit their yoga mats and sneakers to the gym.

You don’t need a food scientist to tell you that. A good crisis plan, starting with a thorough audit of potential vulnerabilities, would have sniffed that out in an instant.