You can't knock the marketing mileage Subway has gotten out of Fogle, who shed 245 pounds while eating a mostly Subway diet several years ago. But Subway's latest ploy to leverage the notoriety of its living weight-loss icon is by far the most imaginative.
Late last year, Subway reached out to people who had vowed to lose weight in 2006 by offering to supply them with recorded motivational messages from Jared during a month-long January promotion. Customers merely had to sign up online to schedule their daily motivational calls. Call content was designed to help dieters control their eating urges and make wise eating choices during the day. Get the mid-morning munchies? Schedule a 10 a.m. call from Jared. Tend to pig out at lunch? Jared could call you every day just before noon.
The calls didn't push Subway sandwiches per se. But with 24,000 outlets worldwide, it was awfully easy for potential customers to find a Subway after their one-on-one motivational message from the Subway spokesman.
"Getting people to eat better is both good for them and good for us," says Subway's Tom Seddon. "If it's going to make people eat more sandwiches, better for us," he added, noting the general idea of the campaign was for Subway to brand itself as a healthy alternative to hamburgers.
That branding effort seems to have worked, at least in Arkansas, where numerous Subway outlets are now government-certified as healthy dining restaurants.
You read that right. In Arkansas, the state government has gotten into the business of certifying restaurants as healthy.
In late February, Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and the state's Department of Health and Human Services recognized the first batch of Healthy Arkansas Restaurant Awards winners-106 restaurants in all. Restaurants got an award packet stuffed with helpful marketing gear: a Healthy Arkansas Restaurant Award certificate, table tents, menu stickers and a door decal proclaiming the establishment a Healthy Arkansas Restaurant.
"This program is just another step in making Arkansas healthier," Huckabee said. "Arkansans can now go to a restaurant and look for a Healthy Arkansas Restaurant sticker and know there will be a smoke-free eating environment and healthy menu options."
How do restaurants qualify? The program is open to every restaurant in the state. Operators fill out a questionnaire (200 did so during the first year of the program) that queries them on their smoke-free criteria, availability of healthy menu alternatives and the availability of nutritional information for menu items.
So who won? Here's where things get interesting. The list included one Burger King, a Chick-Fil-A, two Wendy's (one of them being one of six Gold Award winners), 52 McDonald's (the list was apparently not vetted by Center for Science in the Public Interest, nor did Morgan Spurlock weigh in), 35 Subways and a smattering of independents. Full-service operators may quibble about the numerous QSR outfits on the list, but you can bet many of them will be filling out a nomination form next year just the same.
So who is Huckabee and why is he so hopped up about "Healthy Arkansas"?
Now in his 10th year as governor of Arkansas, Huckabee was diagnosed with diabetes in 2004 and has personally shed more than 100 pounds since. He's on a health kick, thinks others should be, too, and has used the power of his office to bring issues like childhood and adult obesity into the forefront in his state. More of a doer than a talker, his restaurant program is just one part of a multipronged health initiative meant to have a big impact on the citizens of Arkansas.
Huckabee gives more than lip service to his beliefs. He's completed three marathons, recording a personal best of four hours and 25 minutes at this year's Little Rock Marathon.
Many political observers think he'll be the Republican nominee for president in 2008. They cite Huckabee's reputation as a get-it-done kind of guy who can translate rhetoric into meaningful action in a big hurry, with his "Healthy Restaurant" initiative being a key example. If this guy wants to get behind an issue and steer patrons to your restaurant, we say why not let him?
But are there really that many potential patrons who want to eat healthful food but can't figure out where they can go to get it? The people backing new website HealthyDiningFinder.com sure think so. They'll be launching their free service (free to consumers, that is; restaurants pay to be listed) later this year.
The site helps diners more easily identify healthful choices at restaurants nationwide. Consumers can search for restaurants that provide nutritious fare, narrowing their search by such options as ZIP code, type of cuisine and price range.
"In an increasingly competitive market, the Healthy Dining Program offers restaurants valuable opportunities to attract new customers, enhance customer loyalty and position themselves as innovative industry leaders with a competitive edge," claims Erica Bohm, Healthy Dining's vice president and director of strategic partnerships. Partners include the National Restaurant Association. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provided part of the funding for this project.
It sounds like a dandy service for consumers. "A growing number of consumers are looking for more nutritious options on menus," says Bohm. "Healthy Dining Finder.com provides Americans with a free, comprehensive, online resource offering nutrition information for healthier menu items from thousands of restaurant locations nationwide. This information is not available through any other source."
So who is Healthy Dining and what is their expertise? It's a Southern California-based group that claims to be restaurant nutrition experts. Its well-credentialed staff publishes Healthy Dining restaurant guidebooks for the Los Angeles (covering 68 restaurants), San Diego (80 restaurants) and Orange County (70 restaurants) markets. It bills its new website as the operator's "one-stop solution to the restaurant nutrition issue."
Interested? Head to www.healthydiningfinder.com/demo to see what this group is up to. Go to www.healthy-dining.com to see what is offered right now in Southern California. And don't forget that you can learn more about how to make money off of healthful menu items by attending the next edition of Restaurant Hospitality's Healthy Customers, Healthy Profits seminar, coming up this fall. We'll be announcing details soon.