A CBC Marketplace investigation tested the chicken content of several fast food restaurants, discovering that Subway’s chicken sandwiches carry only 50 percent chicken, the rest being soy.

They tested McDonald’s Country Chicken, Wendy’s Grilled Chicken Sandwich, A&W’s Chicken Grill Deluxe, Tim Horton’s Chipotle Chicken Grille Wrap, Subway’s Oven Roasted Chicken Sandwich, and Subway’s Sweet Onion Chicken Teriyaki.

Subway’s chicken sandwiches carry only 50 percent chicken, the rest is just soy. Image credit: Consumer Reports

The tests were performed on the meat alone without dressings or condiments. Most of the samples, except the ones from Subway, were “very close” to 100 percent chicken DNA.

Subway’s chicken turns out to be ‘sorta chicken’

The first set of tests had two samples of each chicken-based product and one sample of Subway’s Chicken Teriyaki Strips. Then, the chicken DNA of each sample was measured, and the scores were averaged for each item.

McDonald’s resulted in 84.9 percent chicken DNA, Wendy’s in 88.5 percent, A&W’s in 89.4 percent, and Tim Horton’s in 86.5 percent. Subway, on the other hand, scored so low that the team had to test the samples once again. The results came out at 53.6 for the Oven Roasted Chicken Sandwich, and 42.8 for the Chicken Teriyaki Strips. Apparently, the rest of the DNA samples corresponded to soy meat.

It seems that Subway, just like many fast food chains, makes use of restructured foods. These are smaller bits of meat that gets grounded together with a bunch of other ingredients to make them last longer, more profitable, and sometimes improving their taste.

Most of the samples showed that the chicken meat had somewhere around 50 ingredients mixed in, ranging from salt, soy, and pepper, up to industrial chemicals that reportedly are safe for human consumption.

Most of the samples showed that the chicken meat had somewhere around 50 ingredients mixed in. Image credit: Viportal.co

A failed healthy choice. Franchises respond to the test

The critical point is that customers tend to ask for a chicken sandwich because they believe they are making a healthier choice, seeing that chicken should be a healthier variety of meat. The study revealed that, although the chicken content in the meat could be below 50 percent, its sodium content was way higher compared to home-cooked chicken obtained from a supermarket. This makes it so fast food chicken sandwiches are far from being a healthy alternative.

Marketplace reached out to each company for a statement regarding the test results:

McDonald’s assured researchers that their sandwiches consisted of 100 percent seasoned chicken breast, with a filet that’s trimmed to fit the sandwich. The company could not reveal how their product is seasoned, but that their product is designed to be seasoned “just like at home.”

According to their statement, Wendy’s chicken sandwich contains a whole chicken breast filled, in no way restructured, and marinated “in a blend of herbs.”

A&W stated that their grilled chicken sandwich is a “single piece of chicken breast fillet” consisting of pure white breast meat without additional parts or restructured process. The result was not 100 percent chicken because the meat undergoes a marinating process in garlic, onion, spices, yeast, and vegetable oil, reportedly to provide the piece with more flavor.

Tim Hortons’ directed the study team to their website, while also revealing that they participate in Informed Dining, a program that provides customers with nutritional information concerning their food choices in fast food franchises.

Subway, on the other hand, restricted themselves to being unable to confirm the veracity of the tests, but they expressed to be “concerned” about the findings cited in the study. They claim that their chicken strips and oven roasted chicken contain “1 percent or less of soy protein,” introduced to stabilize texture and moisture.

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,” responded Subway to Marketplace in a statement.

Subway must restructure its business

Even if the study was performed in Canada, Subway’s U.S. sales have already been perceiving a decline in the past few years, equivalent to 3 percent or $400 million as of 2015. It’s selling point was being a healthy alternative to traditional fast food franchises, introducing vegetable-based meals, and low prices.

On the other hand, competing franchises such as Firehouse Subs and Chipotle have come in hard in trying to take out Subway by putting it in an uncomfortable market position between restaurant-style subs and fast food burgers and sandwiches.

One of the most recent concerns is that year after year, the public has shifted its perception on what is healthy, as Subway failed to capitalize on the idea of fresh, organic food away from the fast food chain scheme.

Apparently, the trend is to spend more money to enjoy a better and more healthy meal. In contrast, Subway’s focus has been to open more stores rather than improving their menu and their product choices. Perhaps this chicken incident will help the company take a new approach of what they should be offering on their menu.

Source: CBC