Technomic’s 2012 Sandwich Consumer Trend Report found that more than half (55%) of Americans are now purchasing grab-and-go sandwiches.
By Marilyn Odesser-Torpey, Associate Editor.
Just two years ago, the top-selling sandwiches at Famima convenience stores were tuna salad, turkey and cheese and egg salad, all on white bread.
Today, the same proteins lead the pack, but the cases at the company’s 10 Los Angeles area units are likely to feature as many as five variations of tuna salad, three of egg salad and five or six of turkey, said Philip Hockwald, Famima’s vice president of business operations division.
“People aren’t just coming in for the usual anymore,” Hockwald explained. “They’re not looking for a new favorite to eat day after day; they want variety.”
At Famima, variety is what they get. At any given time, the stores carry nearly 25 varieties of wedges, wraps, panini and subs. The company works closely with its sandwich suppliers to come up with 2-3 new ones every month. At monthly meetings, managers share what they have learned from listening and talking to customers regarding flavors, ingredients and accompaniments they might enjoy.
The Technomic report revealed that chicken breast is the most popular lunch and dinner sandwich protein, favored by roughly half of the respondents. Roast beef came in second.
Cheddar is the cheese of choice for more than half of the consumers who participated in the survey. American, provolone, Swiss and mozzarella also ranked high.
Sizing the Market
Recent buzz has suggested that customers might like to see some smaller, snack-sized sandwiches that can be purchased alone or packaged with small salads or servings of vegetable sticks, Hockwald said. Technomic’s findings confirmed that one-third of consumers overall, and 40% of those aged 25–34, reported that they would like more restaurants to offer mini sandwich options.
“Operators can leverage this interest and broaden their appeal for snacking occasions by offering some mini sandwiches on the menu using core menu ingredients that they already use,” the Technomic researchers suggested.
Constantly developing new sandwiches does not have to be nearly as daunting as it may sound. Creating a different flavor profile can be as easy (and inexpensive) as swapping out the white bread for marble rye or substituting onion dill, or adding tomato or lettuce, Hockwald said. Because even the simple addition of a swipe of flavored mustard or mayo or a dash of zingy relish can give an old favorite a new lease on life, the company asks its sandwich suppliers to keep an eye out for condiments and combinations that might make for a unique tweak.
In Technomic’s sandwich report, aioli (garlic) is the most-preferred flavor for mayonnaise, followed by chipotle and herb flavors. One-third of the consumers polled, and nearly half of those aged 25–34, said they are more likely to try new or unique flavors on sandwiches than on other foods. Half of the respondents said that they would be highly likely to try new or different breads, and nearly as many would be likely to try unique cheeses and proteins.
Even though many Americans still prefer white bread, and it will generally outsell whole grain bread by 2:1, the availability of the whole grain product can raise the quality perception of the entire category, said Technomic Executive Vice President Darren Tristano.
Wraps are another good way to expand selection with little muss or fuss because tortillas are sturdy enough to withstand stuffing with veggies and other add-ons, and they are less likely to get soggy when sauced. Side containers of sauces can be included in sandwich packages or offered separately to boost flavor even further.
C-stores may also want to take a cue from Rockville, Md.-based California Tortilla, one of the hottest (both literally and figuratively) quick-service concepts, which gives customers the opportunity to use the 75 different hot sauces on its “Wall of Flame” to tailor their take-out to taste.
Tampa, Fla.-based EVOS boasts a “Ketchup Karma Bar” with four signature flavors. And, at Mooyah, burger-gilding options include a selection of sauces that range from its own eponymous blend to household name brands such as Hidden Valley Ranch dressing, A1 and KC Masterpiece BBQ sauces and Frank’s Original Buffalo sauce. All three companies were recently profiled as sandwich concept trendsetters in a recent issue of QSR magazine. C-stores need to take note of not only what their competitors are selling, but what consumers are buying.
Promoting the Program
At Famima, new sandwiches are introduced with fanfare in the form of Facebook posts, Twitter tweets, descriptive point-of-purchase signage and special pricing. Usually, they sell like hotcakes the week they are introduced, Hockwald explained. Sometimes that sales spike can continue for a month or more. To get a true picture of whether or not a sandwich should be placed into regular rotation, every new variety is given a trial run of at least 60 days.
Every once in a while, the company likes to, as Hockwald said, “go way out on a limb,” by bringing in a variety that, while interesting, may not have mass appeal. He cited the example of a salmon and cream cheese sandwich that sold well for about two weeks.
“Even if customers didn’t buy this sandwich, it showed them that we’re always thinking about our offerings and trying new things,” he said.
But variety can quickly turn into chaos if sales are not carefully tracked and slow-sellers removed from the mix. “You can grow to 30-40 varieties almost overnight if you don’t pay close enough attention,” Hockwald said.
To make sure customers at S & S Food Stores get the variety they want, the 47-unit, north-central Florida chain relies on an outside vendor, Dandee Foods, to handle its grab-and-go sandwich program. Brian Tucker, foodservice director for S & S Stores, explained that Dandee tracks both consumer trends and in-store sales to determine which sandwich varieties merit case space.
Quality and Value
At both S & S and Famima stores, customers prefer variety when it comes to price points too. Hockwald said that Famima has a three-tiered program beginning with “value triangles” that range from $2.99 to $3.29. A “mid-tier,” which generally consists of new takes on traditional core varieties, such as egg salad with tomato or tuna with jalapeño-dill mayonnaise, is priced at $4.99. A premium line offers selections that range from $5 on the low end up to $7. The No. 1 seller in that top tier is the turkey and brie on whole wheat.
Tristano cautioned that retailers who stick with the same-old, same-old are really missing the boat when it comes to reaping the revenues that come with increased grab-and-go sandwich sales. “Customers know that if you won’t give them the variety they want, there’s a guy right down the street who will,” he said.
However, there are some things that should never vary when it comes to food, Hockwald noted. “No matter what kind of sandwich or any food item they’re buying, customers want to know that the ingredients are fresh and of the highest quality,” he said.