Subway Defends Its Tuna

Thom Weidlich 02.04.21


Subway Restaurants Inc. whipped up a delicious dish of litigation communications concerning a new lawsuit. The food fight shows that the sandwich maker prepped for such a situation. It reminds us that, while companies face a smorgasbord of crisis scenarios, they should especially plan for those that address their core business.

The story: Two Californians sued the company in federal court in San Francisco alleging that its tuna sandwiches and wraps contain a lot of things, but tuna isn’t one of them. The complaint, which seeks class-action status, was filed Jan. 21, but the story didn’t really take off until a week later.

Subway’s sandwiches and wraps “lack tuna and are completely bereft of tuna as an ingredient,” the attorneys, including famed Houston-based plaintiffs’ lawyer Mark Lanier, wrote in the complaint. “On the contrary, the products are made from a mixture of various concoctions that do not constitute tuna, yet have been blended together by defendants to imitate the appearance of tuna.”

To its credit, Subway responded publicly and, while its rejoinder was serious, it also had a soupçon of humor.

The Milford, Connecticut-based company issued a two-paragraph statement on Jan. 28 through PRNewswire (it’s not on its website). It stressed the positive, even in the headline: “Subway Restaurants Serves 100% Wild-Caught Tuna and Fights Back Against Baseless Allegations.”

High Standards

“The taste and quality of our tuna make it one of Subway’s most popular products and these baseless accusations threaten to damage our franchisees, small business owners who work tirelessly to uphold the high standards that Subway sets for all of its products, including its tuna,” it wrote. Naturally, it said it would not only defend itself against the suit but do so “vigorously.”

Then there was the humor. “Keep fishing folks, we’ll keep serving 100% wild-caught tuna,” Subway tweeted. It even responded to Twitter commenters. One trolled, “You all believed that was real tuna in the first place?” Subway responded, “Because it is 100% real wild caught tuna. Duh.”


The taste and quality of our tuna make it one of Subway’s most popular products.”

— Subway

In another smart move, the company launched a promotion, including on its website and Facebook, for 15 percent off on its tuna products. Cheekily, the promo code is “ITSREAL.”

So, all in all, good litigation communications. Again, Subway had practice in that it’s been hit with similar accusations (companies should especially prepare for crises focused on how they make a living). For example, Subway has been criticized and sued in the past for its foot-long sandwiches not being a foot long. And in October, Ireland’s Supreme Court ruled that its bread contains so much sugar that, for tax purposes, it can’t be deemed, well, bread.

Image Credit: Subway via Facebook

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