The sandwich chain is having supply chain issues for multiple reasons, including an ongoing outbreak of bird flu.
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An employee prepares a customer's sandwich order at a Subway fast food restaurant
Credit: Andrey Rudakov / Bloomberg via Getty Images

Subway franchisees have reported that they are having difficulty sourcing meats for their sandwiches, due to a combination of factors that include an ongoing outbreak of avian flu and lingering supply chain issues that were caused by the pandemic. According to Restaurant Business Online, Subway's sliced turkey supply has been strained after bird flu forced the temporary closure of a processing plant, and some franchisees told the outlet that it hasn't been easy to get ham or roast beef either. 

A Subway spokesperson acknowledged the "supply issues due to a temporary production issue at a protein supplier," and added that it was working to "source meats from additional suppliers" and minimize any issues at individual restaurants. 

But there's always the possibility that other poultry suppliers could run into similar issues — or face similar shutdowns — should bird flu continue to spread. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), 292 commercial and backyard flocks have had confirmed cases of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza and, as of this writing, cases have been confirmed in 34 states. (Although 292 flocks might not seem overwhelming, that adds up to 37.5 million affected birds.) 

This year's outbreak of bird flu could also contribute to the rapidly increasing prices of poultry products and eggs. Last month, the USDA predicted that poultry prices were expected to jump by 7.5 and 8.5 percent this year, which is a higher price rise than other food products. In addition, wholesale poultry prices were 27.9 percent higher in March of this year than they were in March 2021. 

Those price increases affect Subway as well, especially since the majority of its most popular menu items involve cold cuts and sliced meats. "The supply chain challenges that continue to impact the entire industry, as well as ongoing inflation, has led to protein price increases," a spokesperson for the chain told Restaurant Business Online. "We are working with our franchisees to provide guidance on managing incremental costs, which includes balancing the value proposition for our guests, while ensuring franchisee profitability."

The positive reception for some of the chain's newest sandwiches could further complicate its current meat-related challenges. Its Eat Fresh Refresh menu update features items that are heavy on Angus beef, Black Forest ham, capicola, Genoa salami, pepperoni, and of course, sliced turkey and rotisserie chicken. (Restaurant Business Online described the Turkey Cali Fresh sub as the "hero" of Eat Fresh Refresh.) At its peak in 2015, Subway had 27,103 restaurants throughout the United States, but that number had dropped to 22,201 by last summer.