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Take a bite out of Datassential’s latest sandwich insights

Offered at 69% of restaurants across the country, sandwiches are a consumer favorite and menu staple that serve as a flashpoint for innovation throughout the food industry.

5 min read




When you think of a sandwich, what comes to mind? Depending on where you’re located, a sandwich might go by the name grinder or sub, while your neighbor might refer to it as a club or hoagie. There are countless variations of the sandwich’s carrier/protein/toppings formula, from a traditional ham and cheese sandwich to the trendy Vietnamese banh mi. Regardless of what it’s called, the sandwich has been an essential element of the classic brown bag lunch. Nearly 60% of adults pack a sandwich for lunch at least once a week, and nearly 70% of parents pack a sandwich for a child’s lunch at least once a week.

In 2014, Datassential examined why consumers rely on the humble sandwich as an everyday item in a sandwich keynote report. This year, we expanded and updated that popular report in the 2017 Sandwiches Keynote Report. According to the report, nearly half of all consumers ate a sandwich in the past day, and many of them eat sandwiches several times a week. Offered at 69% of restaurants across the country, sandwiches are a consumer favorite and menu staple that serve as a flashpoint for innovation throughout the food industry.

Sandwiches are versatile and touch on a variety of hot trends

With the growing desire for personalization, more than two-thirds of all sandwiches purchased at restaurants are either completely custom-made or modified from an existing menu item. In fact, over a third of consumers say they choose sandwiches over other foods for customization purposes. To satisfy the consumer’s ever-changing needs, sandwiches can be topped with almost anything, but often feature a wide range of proteins, veggies, cheeses and condiments. The flexibility aspect across sandwiches is very appealing to consumers: nearly 80% say their last sandwich contained at least one condiment, and over 50% contained at least one topping. Consumers interested in trendier ingredients may capitalize on customization, for example, by swapping out mayonnaise (the most menued sandwich condiment), for items like savory bacon, tomato or onion jam.

Along with new recipe ideas and flavors, nearly 30% of consumers say that both healthier ingredients and longer shelf life would motivate them to make more sandwiches at home. Following an industry- wide trend toward healthier ingredients, 71% of operators who offer sandwiches reported that they would be willing to pay more for premium deli meat and cheeses (those with no artificial sweeteners, GMOs, antibiotics, etc). That’s in line with the fact that over a quarter of consumers are willing to pay a premium for ingredients with these health halo buzzwords, according to Datassential’s New Healthy Keynote Report.

Growth and innovation in the sandwich market

There are endless opportunities for growth in the sandwich market. As nearly two-thirds of operators claim sandwiches as profit centers, it’s important to note driving factors throughout the sandwich market. With combo meals becoming a top motivator, suppliers might consider different approaches during menu ideation (such as creative pairings with salads, sides, and desserts). Though most commonly served during midday hours, sandwiches are seeing major growth in the morning – in fact, the number of restaurants offering breakfast sandwiches has increased 41% since 2005. Operators in all segments are capitalizing on this trend, sprucing up traditional breakfast sandwich varieties by swapping bacon or sausage out for more unique ingredients not commonly found in the daypart. For example, at Baker’s Crust Bread Market (there are several locations in Virginia), pork belly is featured on the Pork Belly Benedict sandwich along with poached eggs atop a sweet potato biscuit, while at New York’s Blue Smoke, barbecue is the star of the Brisket Burnt End Sandwich, which is showcased on the breakfast menu.

Sandwiches present opportunities for safe experimentation

Simple, traditional sandwiches present opportunities to leverage safe experimentation. Take the classic grilled cheese, for instance. Operators could add trendy ingredients like asiago, truffle or avocado, which would appeal to more adventurous customers. Further innovation can also be explored through sandwich packaging. Two-thirds of sandwiches purchased away from home are consumed outside the establishment they were purchased in, so operators have a chance to differentiate themselves through creative packaging that goes beyond a Ziploc bag. Additionally, for consumers looking for a mess-free sandwich they can eat on-the-go, Eat&Go has created an accordion-style, collapsible sub container that allows customers to fold away the packaging as they eat, keeping their hands clean.

To learn more about the sandwich landscape, ask about our 2017 Sandwiches Keynote Report, which provides a nearly 200-page overview and details the relevance of sandwiches in retail and at home, as well as showcasing sandwich components and outlining new innovations.

Hannah Paterakis is the publications intern for Datassential, a supplier of trends, analysis and concept testing for the food industry. For more information about ordering the 2017 Sandwiches Keynote Report, contact Brian Darr at [email protected] or 312-655-0594.


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