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Subway Slowly Expands Gluten-free Tests

Celiac.com 09/08/2011 - What started in January as a quiet and limited campaign by Subway to test gluten-free rolls and brownies in the Dallas market, then spread to a few Portland outlets, has rapidly grown into a plan to include more than 500 stores.

So far, Subway has been "very pleased" with its tests, and has gotten an "overwhelmingly positive" response from customers.

Customers have deluged Subway with requests for a wider roll out, but the company remains committed to getting the process right from R&D to supply to in-store training, all with an eye toward customer satisfaction, says Mark Christiano, Subway's Baking Specialist in the R&D Department.

Photo: CC-zyphbearTo Subway's credit, they are eager to meet their customers' demands, but cautious to get the entire process right. From product quality to preparation and customer satisfaction, Subway seems committed to getting it right.

Subway does plan to expand both the gluten-free tests, and, eventually, incorporate gluten-free options into their menus, but the process will be slow and meticulous, according to Christiano.

"We will take our time with this and make sure we deliver these products to the consumer the right way. If it was easy to do, everyone would have gluten-free available. Obviously it's not," he said.

Still, rolling out gluten-free bread represents a huge opportunity for Subway. The National Restaurant Association listed gluten-free among the top five culinary themes for 2011. A majority of that market growth will come from the U.S. food service industry, which is expected to grow by more than $500 million by 2014.

Even though customers may clamor for more gluten-free offerings, it is important that companies not just chase a dollar, but that they deliver quality gluten-free service that matches their gluten-free product.

For their part, Subway is to be commended for putting such a serious amount of R&D into their gluten-free offerings. Their effort to provide both a quality product and to deliver that product consistently and with an eye toward customer satisfaction sets the bar for how to go about it.

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"(Gluten intolerance) doesn't impact a large mass of people. We're not judging these tests on sales, but instead on what we're able to do for a handful of our customers and their feedback," Kevin Kane, manager of public relations for Subway said. "It's not a money making thing; it's just the right thing to do."

As Subway's efforts begin to pan out, look for more gluten-free offerings at your local outlet.

Just the small trial of gluten-free rolls and brownies in Dallas offered logistical challenges. Christiano said the company spent about three years in development, followed by extensive training to make sure everyone was on board. The company went as far as working with an undisclosed supplier using a recently purchased gluten-free facility.

Beyond the R&D and supply chain efforts to deliver quality raw materials, Subway has taken a great deal of time to design and implement a comprehensive in-store training program that will help them deliver a consistently high-quality and truly gluten-free 

"Having these items on the menu changes the entire way of doing things. It needs to be taken very seriously. The methods of handling this food have to be followed to a T," Christiano said. This includes extensive instructions, presentations and demonstrations, as well as monthly meetings to reinforce the process.

Under Subway's new guidelines, whenever a customer orders a gluten-free roll or brownie, the line staff will wipe down the entire counter of any crumbs. They will then wash their hands and change their gloves. The gluten-free rolls and brownies are pre-packaged on fresh deli paper, and the staff use a single-use, pre-packaged knife for cutting.

Each gluten-free sandwich will be made and delivered from order to point-of-sale by the same person, as opposed to being passed down the line in the traditional Subway format. Customers can watch the process from beginning to end.

Most importantly, "If they don't like what they see, they can start it over. It's important that our customers feel comfortable and safe," Christiano said. "Nobody is going to die from this, but people get very sick if it's not done right. We want to provide them with a place to eat where they don't have to worry about that."

Rather than just jumping on the gluten-free band-wagon, it sounds like Subway has committed to delivering a quality gluten-free experience from start to finish. Stay tuned to learn about their ongoing gluten-free product trials and their efforts to expand those offerings throughout their chain.

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28 Responses:

 
ME_Someone
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said this on
08 Sep 2011 6:30:11 AM PDT
GOOD! Exciting.

 
Lynne
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said this on
12 Sep 2011 5:26:47 PM PDT
This is FANTASTIC news! It's nice to hear they're doing it correctly. I miss my Subway!!

 
Pauline
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said this on
12 Sep 2011 7:30:07 AM PDT
I am a celiac living in Dallas. I went to subway so excited to have a sub. However, the staff had no idea what gluten free meant they had no area that wasn't contaminated and I left very disappointed. Subway has a long way to go before they state it is gluten free.

 
Beth
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said this on
12 Sep 2011 9:11:33 AM PDT
I visited Portland and had a great experience at Subway when I had a gluten free sandwich! I didn't get sick and was very impressed with the preparation and care that they took when making my sandwich. I can't wait and hope that the sandwich can make it's way to Pittsburgh, PA someday!

 
CeliBelli
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said this on
12 Sep 2011 9:53:25 AM PDT
One thing that isn't addressed, either in this article or the original, is how Subway is handling the issue of cross-contamination in the ingredient bins. All the R&D on bread and special handling of the counter, gloves, etc., doesn't matter if the sandwich is made from ingredients scattered with bread crumbs. I would like to have seen that key issue addressed.

 
Rose McDevitt
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said this on
12 Sep 2011 12:23:50 PM PDT
I am SO VERY PLEASED to see that they're even putting such a great amount of energy in this. Make sure to make it to Vermont! Milton to be exact!

 
Scotty
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said this on
12 Sep 2011 2:19:53 PM PDT
Gotta admit I'm one chomping at the bit for this to be at MY Subway!!!! CANNOT WAIT!

 
Stephanie
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said this on
12 Sep 2011 2:25:37 PM PDT
I can't wait!

 
Cindy
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said this on
12 Sep 2011 2:54:10 PM PDT
It will be interesting to see how they build a gluten free sub. I will not eat their salads because even though they change gloves, the previous gloves have touched the ingredients, touched bread and then back into the ingredients. It will be interesting to see how they solve that; perhaps by using instruments rather than just reaching in. Wiping down the counter is not enough to prevent cross contamination.

 
Sara
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said this on
16 Sep 2011 12:50:55 PM PDT
I was just at a subway and spoke to the manager. They have a separate fridge to keep all veggies, meat, and cheeses to avoid cross contamination. She also said all employees had to attend a class on gluten intolerance that focused a great deal on the cross contamination. It sounded like they new the severity of it and were taking it very seriously. She even said if an employee missed the class they were taken off the schedule

 
Wanda Atkinson
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said this on
12 Sep 2011 3:21:44 PM PDT
Hoping the gluten free brownies and rolls make it to the Canadian market. I used to love going to Subway to eat. Looking forward to being able to do so again.

 
Keith
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said this on
12 Sep 2011 5:20:20 PM PDT
Subway needs to know that if their employee touches "real" bread and then lettuce for example, lettuce from that bin can not be used on a gluten free sandwich.

 
vivienne harris
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said this on
12 Sep 2011 6:09:01 PM PDT
I can hardly wait. I miss my subway subs!

 
Kelsey Pileggi
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said this on
13 Sep 2011 4:05:29 AM PDT
I understand their concerns and am glad they are not taking this lightly, but it would be nice to actually stop at a subway and be able to have a gluten free sandwich..it's hard to have fast food when you are traveling. I also hope they extend it to Canada.

 
Cliff Davis
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said this on
13 Sep 2011 8:41:40 AM PDT
Great news! I've been missing Subway sandwiches since discovering my gluten intolerance last November. Thanks for the article.

 
Donna Middaugh
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said this on
13 Sep 2011 11:27:43 AM PDT
This is wonderful. My husband was diagnosed almost 3 years ago with celiac disease. Before that we regularly ate at Subway and to be able to do so again would be awesome. It can't happen soon enough. Hopefully our Subway will be one that offers GF items.

 
Ann
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said this on
21 Sep 2011 3:28:45 PM PDT
Exciting!

 
Lee-Anne W.
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said this on
22 Sep 2011 1:16:31 PM PDT
I would also be concerned about contamination that is already in the meat/cheese/vegetable bins. If that can be solved, I would definitely try it...it would be nice to eat out once in a while at someplace popular.

 
Jessica
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said this on
23 Sep 2011 8:34:31 AM PDT
Bring it to York, PA...I'm missing Subway, especially given it's across the street from my office & I have to stare at it constantly!

 
Leslie
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said this on
01 Oct 2011 12:24:57 PM PDT
I've been to two different GF Subways in Dallas (one in April, one in Aug - we travel to Dallas about every 3 months) and was very impressed both times with the training of the staff and their efforts to keep gluten from touching my roll. (Very yummy roll too.) The BIG problem is indeed the meat and veggie bins. I honestly can't remember if store #1 had separate bins, but store #2 did not. Times like that I hope the enzymes work (my son and I are gluten intolerant but not Celiac.) We also had a problem the 2nd time when the first Subway didn't have any GF bread left -- but they called another nearby Subway and confirmed they had bread before sending us there.
[We tripped over the GF Subways in Dallas -- I had no idea that was a test market.]

 
Colleen
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said this on
07 Dec 2011 1:00:09 AM PDT
I'm from Sydney, Australia. When I am shopping I have nowhere to eat as I am coeliac. I wish all Subway Stores in Sydney carried gluten free rolls or wraps, which are not cross contaminated. This is a great start. Good on you Subway.

 
Casey
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said this on
20 Dec 2011 1:57:43 PM PDT
I wish that people who are going to nitpick about the ingredient bins would eat a sandwich at home. I have severe effects from celiac but understand that places like Subway will simply not offer any GF options if we aren't able to understand some limits they have as a corporation. Let's let them help us.

 
Chris
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said this on
19 Jan 2012 9:14:07 AM PDT
I think Casey is missing the point about contaminated food bins. I do not think that providing feedback is considered nitpicking. The real concern is that Subway is saying it is gluten free when there is an obvious flaw in their process. "Nitpicking" is how we let Subway help us, so they we are not forced to only eat sandwiches at home.

Casey's line of thinking is simply ignorant. Gluten is an all or nothing scenario, just like food allergies. The term 'gluten free' should only mean ZERO presence of gluten. If we accept an error tolerance, then how will we ever know what is truly gluten free, and what is mostly gluten free? Are you saying that we should just tell people with celiac or food allergies to stay at home? Maybe, grow their own food, too?

It is great that Subway is doing this, but they MUST do it right, or else, what's the point in doing it at all.

 
Annette
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said this on
19 Jan 2012 1:26:52 PM PDT
My son is autistic and has a problem with gluten. In the summer of 2011 we went on vacation and stayed overnight in Redmond Oregon. Next door to our Motel was a Subway. I was just thinking that it sure would be nice to go there when I saw Their sign that they had gluten free bread. It was wonderful to be able to take him there and he loved it. Thank you for doing this and I can't wait until you have it here in California.

 
Sue
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said this on
02 Apr 2012 8:05:34 PM PDT
Thank you Subway! My newly diagnosed daughter with celiac disease (15) was thrilled this past weekend to be able to have her favorite sandwich the chicken, bacon, ranch in Duluth, MN! Now we need gluten free in the twin cities suburbs. Thanks again!

 
Britt
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said this on
31 May 2012 4:40:02 PM PDT
I must agree with Chris above, on a completely different level. Celiac disease IS all or nothing. If you're THAT sensitive to gluten then you simply can only eat at entirely gluten-free restaurants. It's as simple as that. Stop complaining to the companies who are trying. We must live with the hand we are dealt.

 
James T
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said this on
24 Jul 2012 5:46:12 AM PDT
Subway started a gluten-free menu back in January 2011 and to this date they currently have this menu in about 900 locations in the US.

These subway locations are located in Dallas and Tyler, Texas, Tacoma, Washington, and are now expanding to the areas of Duluth, Minnesota and Superior, Wisconsin.

They are looking to expand, however I have yet to see them in my area, has anyone else seen them?

 
Ann
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said this on
09 Oct 2015 11:11:42 AM PDT
Hope you can really do this gluten free thing. Most of my family is gluten free. Sure do miss Subway! It's hard for people when you Have to be gluten free. There's not many place's to eat. So Thank you for your efforts!




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