The Reason Subway Restaurants Always Have The Same Distinctive Smell

Picture this: You’re walking down the street, minding your own business, when suddenly, a mouthwatering aroma hits your nostrils. You look around, and there it is – a Subway sandwich store.

That’s right, the distinct smell of Subway stores is hard to ignore, and for many people, it’s a distinct scent they can’t forget. But have you ever wondered what exactly causes that unmistakable Subway smell?

Let’s hop into our time machine and go back to 1965 when Subway opened its doors to the public.

Humble beginnings

Starting with its first shop in Bridgeport, Connecticut, this sandwich chain has become one of the largest and most recognized fast-food names worldwide, with over 44,000 locations in more than 100 countries.

Over the years, Subway has undergone many changes, from menu items to store designs, but one thing has remained constant – that signature Subway bread smell.

It’s like an invisible brand logo, unique to Subway, that draws customers in and keeps them coming back for more.

Subway’s commitment to providing fresh ingredients, including bread baked in-store, has been key in building the brand’s reputation. The smell of baked bread is a crucial component of that aroma, and it’s often the first thing people notice when they step inside a Subway store. 

So, what causes this smell?

There are mainly two factors at play here.

The use of ingredients

Subway prides itself on using fresh vegetables and meats, and the smell of these ingredients being prepared in-store is one factor that makes up the distinct Subway aroma.

And, of course, Subway bakes its bread in-store, and the smell of freshly baked bread is another contributing factor.

When asked about it during an interview with BBC News, the fast food company’s UK boss, Peter Dowding, quipped: “You are smelling the freshly baked bread we do at least three times a day.”

After a bit more probing by the host, Dowding went on to say that “it’s one of the particular toppings we use on the ‘herb encrusted.’

In another interview with Subway’s “Global Baking Technologist” Mark Christiano, the expert hinted that “perhaps the caramelization smell of the sugar might be a factor.”

Not just taking the word from employees of the franchise for it, Aussi journalist Joel Burrows took matters into his own hands. Literally. He set out to recreate the distinct smell in his own kitchen, making Subway bread.

After a few attempts using the publicly available lists of ingredients, he came close. Still unsatisfied, he then decided to add the scent of fresh cookies, staying true to the sandwich chain’s original ingredients.

After 48 hours of Subway cookery, he had a break through. “As my oven began blasting the combined scent of basil and macadamia cookies I knew I’d done it.”

His conclusion: ” Subway’s smell is—wait for it—the bread and cookies baking together!”

True to a journalist’s nature, the Aussi didn’t stop here.

If a certain combination of ingredients made magic happen – what are the actual, chemical compounds that have us come back for that next turkey and tuna foot-long?

Flavour chemist Dr Tanoj Singh had the answer. His probe identified about 20 different chemicals, along with these baking compounds:

  • 2-methylbutanal
  • 3-methylbutanal
  • Benzaldehyde

The combination of the above helps to create that nutty, roasted aroma. Together with acetic acid and butanoic acid, found in the dressing and cheeses, that “is all we need for our nose to smell the product,” Dr Singh noted.

The design of the venting systems

Finally, the air circulation and ventilation systems in Subway stores are designed to keep the air moving and prevent stale odors from lingering, contributing to the overall aroma.

A former building contractor, whose business was involved in the construction of two new subway stores, explained that they had to make sure that the venting systems for the ovens in both shops blew out over the front of the store.

“In one of the existing stores,” he explained, “we had to vent out of the back because of the rental agreement’s condition that no odors should reach the offices upstairs.”

The power of scent marketing and uniformity

Now that we know what causes the smell let’s talk about how it affects customers.

For some people, the smell is a positive experience that they associate with delicious sandwiches and a friendly atmosphere. However, for others, the smell can be overwhelming or off-putting.

Interestingly, Subway is well aware of the power of scent marketing, and the company intentionally uses the smell of its stores to create a recognizable brand.

In fact, scent marketing is becoming increasingly popular in the restaurant industry, with many food chains using smells to influence consumer behavior.

Eric Schlosser, the author of the best-selling book “Fast Food Nation” knows a thing or two about the success of franchises, and he states that the key to their prosperity can be summed up in one word: uniformity.

That’s right. According to Schlosser and many other experts, franchises and chain stores must consistently provide the same product or service at every location to thrive. This is because customers are drawn to familiar brands and want to avoid the unknown. When a brand offers a consistent experience, it builds trust and fosters loyalty. 

So, the next time you pass by a Subway store and are hit by that familiar aroma, you’ll know that it’s a combination of fresh ingredients, baked bread, and ventilation systems all working together.

And whether you love or hate it, there’s no denying that the Subway smell is a powerful tool the company uses to create a memorable customer experience.

Now go have that sandwich you are craving after reading this mouthwatering article!