Subway franchisees fight for more frequent food deliveries: ‘It’s not fresh’
The restaurant chain has been delivering food to most of its stores just once a week — resulting sometimes in soggy lettuce and flaccid cucumbers.
It’s not just TikTokers who are questioning Subway Restaurants’ "Eat Fresh" slogan.
The giant sandwich chain — which lately has been getting mocked on social media for beef that looks like "cat food" — is now coming under attack by store operators who are demanding better-quality produce, The Post has learned.
According to franchisees, the restaurant chain that once drew a petition to stop making its bread from yoga mat material has been delivering food to most of its stores just once a week — resulting sometimes in soggy lettuce and flaccid cucumbers.
"It is vacuum-packed, but the reality is it’s not fresh," griped a franchisee of the lettuce, which, he lamented, also arrives pre-shredded. "If I have it for seven days, it is more like 15 to 20 days since it was picked," he said.
"How ethical is it for them to say ‘Eat Fresh’?" said the franchisee who owns multiple Subway stores.
Added another franchisee: "The freshness all depends on how careful the restaurant is with food storage. If your refrigerator is good, if you shut the refrigerator door when you leave, there is only a slight difference between lettuce you get at the beginning of the week and at the end."
Such complaints come as sagging sales, worsened by the pandemic, have prompted some Subway franchisees to seek permission to buy their own lettuce, tomatoes and cucumbers, as well as proteins like tuna.
As The Post reported last month, a group of Subway franchisees on April 19 wrote a letter to Elisabeth DeLuca, the widow of the chain’s founder, demanding a slew of changes they claimed would boost sales.
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"Franchisees should have the right to source fresh vegetables every day and offer higher quality ingredients when they are available," the letter said.
The company has so far denied the request, citing quality-control and pricing issues. All of Subway’s food is currently controlled by America’s largest restaurant chain through its Independent Purchasing Cooperative in Miami.
"To maintain the consistency and safety of products, it is an industry standard to require franchisees to purchase food items from approved suppliers only," Subway told The Post.
Subway says complaints by the anonymous franchisees behind the April 19 letter aren’t representative of most store operators.
"We serve freshly made sandwiches, wraps, bowls and salads and stand behind the quality and freshness of our food, while complying fully with all laws on advertising," a Subway spokeswoman said.
Subway declined to say how often it delivers food to its stores, but sources say the vast majority of restaurants are limited to once-a-week deliveries for everything from lettuce and tomatoes to pre-packaged chicken and beef.
"High volume stores like those located in airports, malls, and major downtown cities are the ones that get two deliveries of vegetables a week," one franchisee said.
Food industry sources say once-a-week deliveries are not uncommon in the fast-food space. But Subway’s weekly schedule comes as it seeks to compete with rivals like Chipotle Mexican Grill, which delivers three times a week to most locations and provides whole heads of romaine lettuce to be chopped by store employees — not by headquarters.
"I don’t think once a week is a big deal, but remember Subway is positioning themselves as Chipotle," one food industry executive said.
Subway formerly let franchisees source their own produce, a practice that one former New York City store owner admitted can lead to problems.
"I walked over to Chinatown and usually got better stuff at lower prices, but some franchisees bought whatever veggies were on clearance and there was no consistency," the franchisee said of his days as an operator in the 1990s.
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"Once Subway established a purchasing cooperative, the prices were fixed under contract, and the quality is consistent," the ex-operator added. "You don’t always get the best price, but in times of drought or bad weather the supply remained much more predictable than buying locally."
Subway store operators are also raising eyebrows over new bread the company introduced in recent weeks, which Subway insists can stay fresh for eight hours after being baked instead of just four hours.
Several franchisees said they did not know what was in the new dough to make it last longer, and wondered if Subway was bringing back ingredients it had removed in 2014 when it was exposed for using a chemical in its bread that was often found in yoga mats.
"Regarding your question about the new bread," the Subway spokeswoman said, "while we can’t unpack all the details just yet, we can confirm that fresh and exciting changes are coming for Subway fans. We look forward to sharing more with you soon."
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The franchisee gripes come as TikToker @Travis2official has amassed millions of followers with posts allegedly exposing the company’s behind-the-scenes food preparation. The first post on April 3 showed viewers what he claimed was Subway’s beef, pulling out what appeared to be a brown brick of pulverized meat wrapped in plastic packaging. He dumped the contents into a bowl and crumbled it up with a gloved hand.
"Just to let y’all know how subway steak looks. Behind closed doors," the video was captioned.
Many viewers reacted in disgust, likening it cat food. "Wouldn’t even feed that to my dog," one viewer posted.
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