The changes to American fast-food menus keep coming.
Subway announced today that it will remove all artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives from its menu items, including sandwiches, soups, salads, and cookies, across North America over the next 18 months.
Revamping menus so that items can be made without any artificial ingredients has become a popular trend across the American fast-food industry, as consumers ask more questions about what goes into their food. Last week Taco Bell and Pizza Hut made a similar move, as did Panera Bread Company back in May. Chipotle recently announced that it was taking genetically modified ingredients off its menu, and McDonald’s said in March that it would only serve chicken raised without certain types of antibiotics.
Subway said it will gradually introduce the changes ”without sacrificing taste,” and is debuting a new roast beef recipe. The chain has already been tweaking its ingredients—last year the chain removed azodicarbonamide, the controversial “yoga mat chemical,” from its bread, and in March Bloomberg reported that it had “quietly subtracted” two flavor enhancers from its chicken teriyaki recipe.
The chain says that it’s too large to make all of its planned changes overnight, especially ”without driving up the price of its sandwiches.” But according to Elizabeth Stewart, Director Corporate Social Responsibility, “we felt it was important to set an ambitious goal as a means to give us something to shoot for and demonstrate our unwavering commitment to wellness.”
Subway’s shift is in some ways more far-reaching than its rivals. Pizza Hut’s ban on artificial ingredients applies only to its pizzas. Taco Bell says sodas and co-branded items, like its Doritos Locos Tacos, will be exempt from the changes. Panera’s move does not yet apply to its handful of restaurants in Canada. Subway’s announcement, however, applies to “all menu items… across all North American restaurants,” (emphasis added).
That said, sodas and other beverages made with high fructose corn syrup and/or artificial sweeteners will remain on the menu, a Subway spokesperson told Quartz. And there are no immediate plans to apply the ban across the chain’s extensive global operations. ”As we make these changes in North America, we hope to ultimately make the same changes worldwide,” the spokesperson said. “We have a very complex supply chain.”
Subway, which once was considered one of the healthiest fast-food chains, has seen sales slip as the competitive landscape, and the consumer understanding of “healthy,” has shifted. Last year, Subway’s sales fell by 3.3%, according to market research firm Technomic.