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Sneak peek: Sandwich report uncovers consumer wants, industry trends

4 min read

Restaurant and Foodservice

(Photo: NEWSCRED/rez-art)

What makes a truly great sandwich? It’s no small question — sandwiches are big business, both for restaurants — Subway, the largest QSR chain in the world, has over 42,000 locations — and retail, with nearly 90% of consumers report eating a sandwich within the past week, the majority eaten and prepared at home.

For our upcoming MenuTrends Keynote on sandwiches, we wanted to know what consumers were already eating, what they were interested in trying, and how that compared to the sandwiches that operators were menuing. We asked over 1,000 consumers for their thoughts on a wide range of sandwich options, flavors, trends and ingredients, uncovering preferences and motivations with direct implications for both operators and consumers. We combined this with operator data on purchases and brand preferences, and leveraged the power of MenuTrends, our trend-tracking menu database, for this one-of-a-kind series that comprehensively explores topics and categories central to the industry.

So what makes a truly great sandwich? When asked to finish the sentence, “A truly great sandwich starts with having truly great…,” 42% of consumers chose the bread or carrier as the most important component. This should be good news to the many operators who have been busy introducing a wide variety of specialty carriers in the past few years. Pretzel, for instance, continues to grow as a carrier — it grew 33% on sandwich menus over the past year, and 170% in the past four years. Brioche is also growing fast, and the term “artisan” is being used more frequently to describe sandwich bread.

What are consumers looking for when it comes to sandwich trends? While it’s no surprise that familiar favorites like turkey and ham are the most consumed options, unique sandwich trends like tortas also scored highly with consumers, both in familiarity (77% of consumers were familiar with tortas) and appeal (they were also the highest scoring unique sandwich option). Operators and manufacturers can also look to regional American cuisine for menu and product inspiration — nearly 60% of consumers were interested in the Kentucky hot brown, and Buffalo, New York’s local specialty, the “beef on weck,” a roast beef sandwich with fresh horseradish on a salt and caraway-topped “kimmelweck roll,” also scored highly. And BBQ was the most popular “MegaTrend” we tested, with 64% of consumers highly interested in BBQ sandwich options — a trend operators and manufacturers may be promoting through an increase in Southern-inspired flavors and components. Pulled proteins, for instance, are growing on sandwich menus — pulled or shredded chicken is up 90% over the past four years, and pulled pork is up 36%.

Supermarkets, in particular, may need to start leveraging these trends in the future as they continue to compete with nearby restaurants by adding more prepared foods, including prepared sandwiches and other deli options. Today’s consumers are encountering a wider variety of sandwich options and flavors, from regional and ethnic influences to healthier ingredients and quality-driven descriptors like “slow-cooked” and “hand-carved.”

Millennials, meanwhile, continue to blur the lines between dayparts. As reported in our breakfast keynote report, millennials were more likely than other age groups to eat breakfast outside of breakfast hours, and the same holds true for sandwiches — 27% were inclined to eat a sandwich at breakfast (excluding breakfast sandwiches), while a quarter considered them a late-night snack option.

This is just a small sneak peak at this 150+ page report, which includes data on both what drives and impedes sandwich purchasing/preparation at-home and away-from home; where consumers purchase sandwiches; sandwich occasions; operator preferences; and trend information on flavors, ethnic influences, prep methods, carriers, cheeses and so much more.

Maeve Webster is the senior director of Datassential, a supplier of trends, analysis and concept testing for the food industry. For more information about pre-ordering the MenuTrends Keynote Sandwich Report, contact Brian Darr at or 312-655-0594.


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