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Sandwich innovations boost consumer demand

Sandwiches are the cornerstone of lunch and dinner menus at both limited- and full-service restaurants, where they are offered more than any other entrée. More consumers report purchasing sandwiches away from home today vs. just two years ago, due in large part to operators' innovative responses to consumer demands for lower prices, greater variety, fresher fare, flexible portions and healthier items.  

While the industry as a whole lost 4,500 restaurants in 2011, the limited-service sandwich segment grew by 800 units, spurred by Subway, which netted 872 new franchised restaurants in the U.S. focusing on healthy, fresh, and lower-priced sandwiches.

“Today’s consumer expects greater customization and broader sandwich options,” says Darren Tristano, executive vice president, Technomic, which recently released its Sandwich Consumer Trend Report. “Trends in portion flexibility, variety, freshness and shareability have come to the forefront of this segment. Shareable options give operators a chance to go beyond the standard menu and try new ethnic sandwiches. Often these ethnic and next-level sandwiches, which focus on gourmet ingredients and toppings, are introduced through mini sandwiches or wraps. Giving consumers smaller, shareable portion options can be considered as healthier with less calories. This trend shows no signs of slowing down.”

Interesting findings from the Sandwich Consumer Trend Report include: 

  • 41 percent of consumers ages 25-34 would like more restaurants to offer mini-sandwiches that can be eaten as a snack or light meal, up 15 percentage points since 2010
  • Gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches continue to take off. This simple American sandwich staple is getting an update, as whole concepts are being built on the appeal of high-end, high-quality grilled cheese
  • Specialty breads offer operators and suppliers a strong avenue for sandwich differentiation. Focaccia, ciabatta, and sourdough have seen modest increases on menus
  • Gluten free flatbread, bun and wrap options are becoming increasingly prevalent
  • More consumers are purchasing grab-and-go sandwiches, reflecting a greater shift toward increased convenience and prepared foods