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Our correspondence with Subway

As we researched and reported this story, we reached out to Subway many times. Here is our correspondence with the company. We have replaced some names with initials and omitted phone numbers and email addresses to protect the privacy of individuals involved. Emails from Marketplace staff are indicated in italics.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016 4:43 PM

Dear S.M.,

My name is S.M. and I work at Marketplace, a national consumer affairs program airing on CBC, Canada’s public broadcaster.

Our audience is always interested in finding out about the food they eat. This is why we are currently researching fast food products from Canadian restaurants, and we are hoping you can help us learn more about the ingredients in your grilled chicken products.

We would like to request the ingredient composition in grilled chicken products such as the Chicken Patty and Chicken Strips, and all other grilled chicken portions used in your salads, sandwiches and wraps. In addition to the list of ingredients, could you also include the percentage of chicken present, along with the percentage of all other ingredients. We know that the stated ingredients include the following, but we would like to know about the percentages in more detail.

CHICKEN PATTY: Chicken breast meat with rib meat, water, seasoning [corn syrup solids, brown sugar, modified tapioca starch, salt, dextrose, maltodextrin, modified corn starch, garlic powder, hydrolyzed corn protein, onion powder, tetrasodium pyrophosphate, vinegar solids, yeast extract, vegetable oil shortening (soybean), thiamine hydrochloride, lactic acid, disodium inosinate and disodium guanylate], soy protein, sodium phosphates.

CHICKEN STRIPS: Boneless, skinless, chicken breasts, water, seasoning (salt, modified corn starch, potassium chloride, flavour, yeast extract, spices, chicken fat, onion powder, sesame oil), soy protein, sodium phosphate, flavour.

We’d also like to know if there are any ingredients not listed. In addition, we would like to know the provenance of the chicken you are serving; is the chicken being served from Canada, or supplied from other countries?

We’d appreciate it if you could get back to us as soon as possible, within the next week or so.

Now in our 44th season, Marketplace is broadcast across Canada and is one of the longest-running and most-watched current affairs program in the country.

Thank you and I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Best regards,

S.


Thursday, July 7, 2016 9:13 AM

Hi S.,

Thanks for your enquiry about chicken used in SUBWAY restaurants. The ingredients you cited in your initial enquiry are not correct. The precise list is below, so please feel free to use any or all of the below attributable to SUBWAY Canada.

Also, please note that I am not personally an official SUBWAY Canada spokesperson, so please don’t quote or attribute to me by name.

Thank you,

S.


SUBWAY restaurants is fully transparent with respect to all of our menu items and ingredients. Everything is listed on our website at www.subway.com.

All of our quality chicken comes from farms in Canada and the U.S.

The complete list of ingredients for our Canadian chicken products is as follows:

CHICKEN PATTY: Chicken breast meat, water, seasoning (sea salt, sugar, chicken stock, salt, flavours, canola oil, onion powder, garlic powder, spice, chicken fat, honey), soy protein, sodium phosphates.

CHICKEN STRIPS:  Boneless, skinless, chicken breasts, water, soy protein concentrate, modified potato starch, sodium phosphate, potassium chloride, salt, maltodextrin, yeast extract, flavours, spices, dextrose, onion powder, carmelized sugar, paprika, chicken broth, vinegar solids, paprika extract.

All of our ingredient information is fully accessible here: http://www.subway.com/~/media/canada/documents/nutrition/canprodingredients.pdf
 

Monday, July 18, 2016 4:08 PM

Hi S.,

Thanks so much for your quick response. Who would be the official Subway Canada spokesperson?

As per my earlier email we'd still like to know the percentage of the ingrediants including the percentage of chicken present in the chicken patty and the chicken strips.

Following up on your response - does this mean your chicken patty seasoning no longer has "corn syrup solids, brown sugar, modified tapioca starch, dextrose, maltodextrin, modified corn starch, hydrolyzed corn protein, tetrasodium pyrophosphate, vinegar solids, yeast extract, vegetable oil shortening (soybean), thiamine hydrochloride, lactic acid, disodium inosinate and disodium guanylate"?

And do the chicken strips no longer have "modified corn starch, chicken fat, onion powder, sesame oil, soy protein"

Thank you.

Best Regards,

S.

 

Tuesday, July 26, 2016 10:42 AM

Hi S.,

SUBWAY does not share details of the percentage of ingredients and meat composition of its recipes externally this information is proprietary. This is to prevent competitors from replicating SUBWAY’s products.

And yes, to reiterate - the ingredients you cited in your initial enquiry are not correct. The complete list of ingredients for our Canadian chicken products is as follows:

CHICKEN PATTY: Chicken breast meat, water, seasoning (sea salt, sugar, chicken stock, salt, flavours, canola oil, onion powder, garlic powder, spice, chicken fat, honey), soy protein, sodium phosphates.

CHICKEN STRIPS:  Boneless, skinless, chicken breasts, water, soy protein concentrate, modified potato starch, sodium phosphate, potassium chloride, salt, maltodextrin, yeast extract, flavours, spices, dextrose, onion powder, carmelized sugar, paprika, chicken broth, vinegar solids, paprika extract.

Again, I am not personally an official SUBWAY Canada spokesperson, so please don’t quote or attribute to me by name. The official spokesperson is E.S., Director of Corporate Social Responsibility, SUBWAY restaurants.  

Thanks,

S.


Wednesday, July 27, 2016 2:45 PM

Thanks for getting back to me S.

Could you please connect me with E.S. so that we can run these answers by her and get Subway's official response.

Thanks!

Best,

S.

 

Thursday, July 28, 2016 9:12 AM

Hi S.,

The responses below are Subway’s official response from spokesperson, E.S.

Thanks,

S.
 

Friday, July 29, 2016 11:37 AM

Thank you.

Best,

S.
 

Tuesday, January 10, 2017 1:50 PM

Hello Ms. M. -

Thanks for taking my call.

As I mentioned, I just wanted to confirm these comments can be attributed to Ms. E.S.?

Please let me know her full title, as well as who the appropriate PR contact is for the Subway file.

SUBWAY does not share details of the percentage of ingredients and meat composition of its recipes externally this information is proprietary. This is to prevent competitors from replicating SUBWAY’s products.

And yes, to reiterate - the ingredients you cited in your initial enquiry are not correct. The complete list of ingredients for our Canadian chicken products is as follows:

CHICKEN PATTY: Chicken breast meat, water, seasoning (sea salt, sugar, chicken stock, salt, flavours, canola oil, onion powder, garlic powder, spice, chicken fat, honey), soy protein, sodium phosphates.

CHICKEN STRIPS:  Boneless, skinless, chicken breasts, water, soy protein concentrate, modified potato starch, sodium phosphate, potassium chloride, salt, maltodextrin, yeast extract, flavours, spices, dextrose, onion powder, carmelized sugar, paprika, chicken broth, vinegar solids, paprika extract.
--

Thank you,

Charlsie Agro
 

Tuesday, January 10, 2017 3:41 PM

Hi Charlsie,

Thanks for the chat. I’ve copied my colleague, D. who manages the Subway file. She’s looking into this info for you and will get back to as soon as possible.

Best regards,

S.
 

Wednesday, January 11 8:27 AM

Hi Charlsie,

Nice to e-meet you!

Wanted to confirm the statement noted below is accurate and can be attributed to E.S. If you have any additional questions feel free to give me a call or send an email.

If you also decide to move forward with the story could you give us a heads up to watch for the piece?

Many thanks,

D.
 

Wednesday, January 11 11:50 AM

Thank you.

We have not set an air date yet, but I will definitely keep in touch.
 

Wednesday, January 25, 2017 6:28 PM

To D.B.,

I’m a journalist at CBC Marketplace -- I believe my colleague Charlsie Agro has been corresponding with you.

As you know, we’re doing a story about fast-food grilled chicken. The report will help educate Canadians about what’s in their food and how it’s made. We’re taking a deeper look into these menu items by assessing the nutritional values and claims.

We’d like to arrange an on-camera interview with a representative from Subway to learn more about your grilled chicken product sometime over the next couple weeks. If possible, we’d like to do the interview at your chicken processing facility.

If you could please get back to us in the next couple days that would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks,

Eric Szeto
 

Thursday, January 26, 2017 1:37 PM

Hi Eric,

Thanks for the note.

I’m connecting with the team and hope to have updates for you shortly. In the meantime, can you tell me a bit more about the segment? Are you speaking with other Quick Service Restaurants or providers and what is your deadline for the story?

To help me liaise with the most appropriate representative, can you also provide more information on the questions you will be asking?

Cheers,

D.
 

Monday, January 30, 2017 12:06 PM

Hi D.,

Thanks for the quick reply. As previously stated, the story we're working on has to do with quick-service grilled chicken. We're assessing the nutritional values and claims for chicken items from multiple competitors. The air date is set to be around the end of February/early March - but it's important we are able to get Subway's response to the story well before it airs.

In addition to the on-camera request - can you confirm whether Subway's oven roasted chicken and chicken strips are reformed/restructured?

Thanks again,

Eric
 

Monday January 30, 2017 12:06 PM

Thank you for your email.

I am currently out of the office, returning Tuesday, January  31 and will respond to your email upon my return. If your matter is urgent, please call my mobile at XXX-XXX-XXXX.

Cheers,

D.
 

Wednesday, February 1, 2017 6:29 PM

Dear D.,

I just wanted to follow up and see if there has been any progress in terms of our on-camera interview request.

In the meantime, I have a few follow up questions about Subway’s Oven Roasted chicken patty and chicken strips.

We would like to know more about chicken in those sandwiches, and we would like to inform our viewers about how it’s processed before being sold to consumers.  

It’s our understanding that many popular restaurant chains use a process that we’ve been told is “restructured” or “reformed”. A food scientist inspected your Oven Roasted chicken and chicken strips and determined it was not one breast filet but ground chicken and/or breast pieces restructured back together. Can you confirm whether this is accurate?

As well, we did DNA testing for the Oven Roasted Chicken and the chicken strips. Our preliminary results show that both the Oven Roasted Chicken and strips contained roughly 50% chicken DNA and 50% plant DNA.

In light of this, we’d like to get a better understanding from Subway of why the chicken DNA for the Oven Roasted chicken and chicken strips seem to be composed of about 50% chicken meat?

We hope you will explain this to us during an interview but in the meantime we would appreciate it if you could please provide more clarity in our questions outlined in this letter no later than Thursday, February 2.

Thanks,

Eric
 

Wednesday, February 15, 2017 2:53 PM

Dear D.,

Hope you are well.   I emailed you on February 1st -- but have yet to receive a response. By now you’re aware we’ve been looking into fast-food chicken from various chains - including Subway’s Oven Roasted chicken and chicken strips.

We are going to broadcast our report about fast food chicken sandwiches next week, and we are eagerly awaiting your response.

We still have several questions about how your chicken items are made, and we would like your response and perspective about new information in regards to sodium levels in your products.  

As previously mentioned, DNA tests conducted by an accredited Ontario lab for these menu items showed that there was approximately half chicken/half soy DNA.   We’d like to get a better understanding from Subway about why this is the case.    We have tested other fast food chicken sandwiches from 4 other chains and the ratio of chicken DNA compared to other ingredients was the lowest for the Subway products. 

A former employee from Grand River Foods -- where the Subway chicken items are made -- tells us these products use ground chicken before it is restructured/reformed. As well, they tell us the grill marks on Subway’s chicken products are for cosmetic purposes, since the chicken is not grilled.  At the processing plant, they use diluted sugar water to accelerate the searing process (to give it an even colour) before it’s cooked in a convection oven.  Then we’re told the grill marks are added to the products by a cast iron char broil machine after it’s cooked in the convection oven.

Along with a DNA test, we also commissioned a nutritional analysis of chicken sandwiches from 5 fast food chains.  We focused on sodium levels in particular.   The lab tests show that Subway’s chicken strips have the least amount of sodium, and Subway’s oven roasted chicken sandwich has the highest amount of sodium.

We’re hoping to hear more from you about our testing in an on-camera interview with our reporter Charlsie Agro on Friday February 17th, 2017.   

Thanks,

Eric Szeto
 

Thursday, February 16, 2017 11:47 AM

Hi Eric,

Thanks for the note. I’m working with Subway to obtain more information in this regard as we believe some of the results you have provided are inaccurate. We would like to be able to review the test results you have obtained to ensure accuracy.

Thanks,

D.

 

Thursday, February 16, 2017 12:58 PM

Hi D.,

I've attached 2 documents: nutrition and DNA.

Additionally, we would also like to know more about Subway's use of sodium phosphate as an ingredient in the chicken. While we understand the use of this ingredient is strictly regulated, there is some research that suggests higher levels of phosphates could potentially lead to a higher risk of cardiac disease and kidney issues.  

I'm around if you have any questions.

Thanks,

Eric Szeto
 

Thursday, February 16, 2017 2:31 PM

Thanks Eric.

When looking at the lab work, the description of the item says “submarine sandwich” then description of meat reads either “strip” or “formed patty.” Can you confirm if the analytical study was completed on a fully built sandwich and if so, what else was on the sandwich?

Many thanks,

D.
 

Thursday, February 16, 2017 2:33 PM

It was either the oven roasted or strips. No bread, no toppings, no veg. Just chicken piece(s).


Friday, February 17, 2017 2:59 PM

Hi D.,

Just wondering if we should expect a response today.

Thanks,

Eric


Friday, February 17, 2017 3:08 PM

Hi Eric,

Our goal is to get back to you this afternoon. I will be in touch as soon as I have something to share.

Best,

D.
 

Friday, February 17, 2017 4:51 PM

HI Eric,

Wanted to let you know it's taking some time to  review results and obtain statement. Likely won't be able to get you something until early next week. Hope this will not be an issue.

Best,

D.
 

Friday, February 17, 2017 6:42 PM

Hi D.,

Thank you for the update. In all fairness, we have been corresponding for months about this report and we have been very flexible with our deadlines.  Yet at this stage, I’m afraid we require a final response no later than noon Monday February 20th.

As you are well aware, we sent you our initial test results more than two weeks ago (February 1, 2017) and yet we didn’t receive a response until just this week.  

For weeks, we have asked you to come on camera and we are hoping you will seriously consider this request.   

We strongly believe your perspective about issues we have raised in great detail in all our correspondence is best represented in an on-camera interview with our reporter Charlsie Agro.

Looking forward to hearing from you soon,

Eric Szeto
 

Monday, February 20, 2017 9:38 AM

Good morning Eric,

Apologies for the delayed response. Please find below the statement from SUBWAY®  Canada in regards to your questions on the chicken offerings.

SUBWAY Canada cannot confirm the veracity of the results of the lab testing you had conducted.

However, we are concerned by the alleged findings you cite with respect to the proportion of soy content. Our chicken strips and oven roasted chicken contain 1% or less of soy protein. We use this ingredient in these products as a means to help stabilize the texture and moisture. All of our chicken items are made from 100% white meat chicken which is marinated, oven roasted and grilled.

Finally, all of our chicken items (and every item on our menu, for that matter) are inspected by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, and all of our offerings meet or exceed CFIA standards. The same holds true for all Canadian and U.S. labelling requirements.

Best,

D.
 

Tuesday, February 21, 2017 2:29 PM

Dear D.B.,

Thank you for the response on Monday. There are a few things I'd like to get clarified in light of your email.

The lab we used to test the samples says of all the chains, Subway had the most plant DNA in its chicken.  To get a better understanding of this, we tested  5 more oven roasted chicken samples and 5 more chicken strips samples - and the results, as you were able to see in the report, were quite similar.

The lab says that based on their tests it is unreasonable to say Subway uses 1% or less soy protein in the chicken. The lab says it would have picked up other significant plant DNA -- again soy was the only one that stood out. While the lab acknowledges there can be a margin of error (standard deviation) -- a 50x difference is quite dramatic. The lab, we should note, stands by its tests.

The original intent of the segment was to get a full understanding of what goes into fast-food chicken and how it is processed. As a consumer affairs program, we've been trying our best to get the most accurate understanding of this.  

So we're asking Subway, once again -- what is the exact DNA content in the chicken strips and oven roasted products? What is the proportion of all ingredients used? What type of soy protein (specifically) is being used? If you can provide any additional information you think will clarify the matter, please do. 

We're adding a Subway representative to this correspondence because given the nature of our findings, we'd prefer to reach out directly to give Subway one last opportunity to respond.

We would like to have a response no later than end of day - Tuesday, February 21st.

Thanks,

Eric Szeto


Tuesday, February 21, 2017 5:26 PM

Hi Eric,

Below is the additional statement from SUBWAY® Canada.

Again, we disagree with your test results. Our recipe calls for 1% or less of Soy protein in our chicken products. We tested our chicken products recently for nutritional and quality attributes and found it met our food quality standards. We will look into this again with our supplier to ensure that the chicken is meeting the high standard we set for all of our menu items and ingredients.

Best.

D.