​How Subway plans to win back consumers, post-Jared

This year has been an "annus horribilis" for America's largest fast-food chain.

Executives at Subway, which has more locations than McDonald's, may well be wishing that 2015 never happened. On top of declining sales and the illness of co-founder Fred DeLuca, the company was put in a tough spot after its chief spokesman, Jared Fogle, plead guilty to allegations that he paid for sex acts with minors and received child pornography.

While Fogle's legal troubles don't have anything to do with Subway's food or service, it doesn't help the image of a brand already struggling to remain relevant with consumers. Subway, however, isn't sitting back on its heels. The chain is planning a brand overhaul that will touch everything from food to decor, as it tries to win back customers and keep up with fresher competitors such as Chipotle Mexican Grill (CMG), reports The New York Post.

Subway didn't immediately return a request seeking comment.

The new rebranding will be introduced in mid-2016, according to the Post. The approach will provide new food items and staff training, although the publication said the company didn't provide details.

The chain expanded during its past five decades of operations by rapidly opening new locations through franchisees and promoting healthy eating. The latter was exemplified by Fogle, who lost 245 pounds by eating two Subway sandwiches a day and exercising.

Fogle's association with Subway was a huge boon -- until those allegations surfaced earlier this year, that is. With a relatively bland persona, Fogle allowed Americans to project their own struggles with food and weight onto the former Indiana University student.

The idea of turning to fast food to lose weight was surely appealing to many consumers, given America's love of restaurant chains. After his first commercial, Subway sales jumped 20 percent, according to The New York Daily News.

In recent years, however, Americans have become concerned with more than just calories. Questions over the use of antibiotics and chemicals have jumped to the forefront, with Subway among the chains now struggling to stay one step ahead of consumers' concerns over ingredients.

After a campaign from activists, Subway agreed to remove a food additive from its bread called azodicarbonamide, which has been linked to respiratory issues. It's also vowing to cut back on the use of antibiotics in meat, although that might take time.

A spokeswoman for the chain told the Post, ""We have been working toward the elimination of antibiotics, as are many other companies, which makes securing supply challenging for a chain our size."