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Subway Footlong Ripoff!

Updated on January 25, 2016
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Dr. Penny Pincher founded the popular personal finance blog Penny Pincher Journal in 2013 and has published two books about saving money.

Subway offers Footlong Subs
Subway offers Footlong Subs | Source

Reports including this one from ABC News indicate that the Subway footlong sub is not really one foot long. Some pictures on the Internet show subs about 11 inches long. My initial reaction was: “no big deal”. It’s about a foot long. You can see how long it is while they are making it, so it’s not really deceptive. But after further thought, I realized that this may be one of the biggest consumer scandals ever.

Economic Injury

Millions of the subs have been sold as “footlong subs”. There have even been major ad campaigns describing “five dollar footlongs” featuring people holding their hands apart to indicate the size of the sub. If the footlong sub is 1.2 inches short of a foot, this is 10% of the total size of the sandwich. People are not just shorted on the length of the bread, but on all of the toppings as well. If a 12 inch sub value is $5, a 10.8 inch sub value is only $4.50. The economic effect of passing off millions of shorter subs as footlong is enormous.

This not only effects the footlong subs, but the 6 inch subs as well, which are ½ the length of a footlong.

These Subs are Sold by Weight Rather than Length
These Subs are Sold by Weight Rather than Length | Source
Do Subway footlongs measure up?
Do Subway footlongs measure up? | Source

Consumer Fraud?

What do you expect from a five dollar footlong? There are only two things you can expect based on the name: that it costs $5 and is 1 foot long. It does not claim to have a certain amount of meat. It does not even claim to taste good or to be healthy. It only claims to be a foot long.

Since there is no constraint on how thick it must be, Subway could simply have made the bun a little thinner and longer. Since there is no constraint on the amount of meat or toppings, Subway could have simply spread things out a little bit. It would have been simple for Subway to deliver on the promise of a foot long sub. But they did not.

When the advertising team came up with the “five dollar footlong” campaign, did anyone at Subway bother to measure a sub. Did they know the footlong subs were not really a foot long? I’m sure they did. A company that sells millions of a product watches ingredient cost and portion size very carefully. Surely one of Subway’s lawyers actually measured a few subs to check the actual length. I think they knew that the length of subs varies, and that it is often less than a foot.

How long is a footlong sub?
How long is a footlong sub? | Source

It's Like a Quarter Pounder... But Without the Fine Print

I am having trouble thinking of other products that specify a quantity in the name of the product. The most similar comparison that comes to mind is the Quarter Pounder from McDonalds. A Quarter Pounder has an asterisk with fine print that explains that the pre-cooked weight of the beef patty is one quarter pound, or 4 oz. The hamburger you purchase has less than a quarter pound of beef due to loss of water and fat during cooking. But McDonalds is careful to offer the fine print to explain this. Subway made no attempt to explain that a footlong sub is not really one foot long…

It could be worse- Subway could claim to have "low calorie footlong subs". Of course they are low calorie only because they are shorter than they should be!

Does it bother you that a "Footlong" sub is only 11 inches long?

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Penny Pinching Tips:

  • Subway 5 dollar footlong subs are a great deal, even if a footlong is slightly less than a foot long. You can add all kinds of expensive veggies for free including spinach, cucumbers, and hot peppers.
  • Subway claims that "footlong" is simply the name of the product and not really an indication of the length of the sub. This is confusing at best.
  • Subway should either 1) add an asterisk and fine print that states that the length of a footlong sub may be less than one foot long or 2) ensure that footlong subs are at least 1 foot in length.

© 2013 Dr Penny Pincher


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