SINGAPORE: When Subway Singapore announced on Friday evening (Aug 31) that it was officially halal certified, the online reaction was intense.
Many people expressed strong support for the sandwich chain's decision, but others protested that going halal had removed their favourite pork and bacon options from Subway's menu.
But the company saw this coming. Subway's Southeast Asia country director Mr Samad Mohd Shariff told Channel NewsAsia in an interview before Friday's announcement that there was "bound to be initial apprehension" over its halal certification.
"We respect all our consumers. There's bound to be a difference of opinion somehow, especially with social media, but we are quite confident that going halal was the right business decision," said Mr Shariff.
He added that when Subway announced last March that the company would no longer serve pork products, there was "initial feedback" against the decision. But he maintained that this died down and is confident that those who have spoken out most strongly, threatening to take their business elsewhere, can be won over.
"Once our consumers realise that we have maintained the same high standard quality, the same freshness, the same taste, I'm very confident they will come back to experience Subway - sooner or later.
"But of course there's bound to be initial apprehension over what we are doing. I would like to assure anyone that we are going through a whole really meticulous process to ensure our product quality (remains at a similarly high level)" said Mr Shariff.
"Again what we would like to assure our regular customers is that the taste remains the same, the same high quality standard is actually maintained in all of (the outlets)."
'THE WHOLE OF SINGAPORE CAN BUY FROM US'
Mr Shariff stressed that Subway's motivation in going halal was inclusiveness, highlighting that the biggest advantage was that as many people as possible will be able to eat its food.
"Once we're halal certified, literally the whole of Singapore can buy from us," he said. "The big picture is to get the majority of Singapore to experience Subway - there is bound to be some people whose palates may prefer things which are different, but we are working on a bigger piece of Singapore."
As part of its process to meet the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS) requirements for halal certification, Subway had to work on three points - conduct ritual cleansing for all its restaurants, ensure it has at least two Muslim employees at each outlet and ensure that all the protein-based food in its products is halal certified.
Ritual cleansing, which is known in Islam as sertu, involves the process of washing the Subway kitchens and restaurants. Subway said it hired an external contractor to cleanse all its outlets in March.
According to Mr Shariff, the part of the process that required Subway to take "quite some time" was to ensure its meat products fulfilled MUIS' requirements.
Subway had to use alternative ingredients for some of its sandwiches. For instance, the protein products in its cold cut trio, meatball marinara melt as well as steak and cheese were all changed to halal-certified options.
Meanwhile, for its sandwiches that previously used pork or bacon, chicken or beef alternatives have been used.
Mr Shariff stressed that the journey towards halal certification has been meticulous because it wanted to preserve the quality of the product.
When asked about challenges that Subway faced in its journey, Mr Shariff said: "Any process this large bounds to have some bumps along the way but I'd say that they're small bumps, not big bumps.
"Generally we maintained the mindset that the (quality of the) product needed to be maintained. We needed to go through the MUIS halal compliant process and it is a process we managed to pull through," he said.