Before “grab and go” became a marketing standard, sandwiches were by design made for consumption in any situation — hand-held and easy to eat in the café, on the run or at the office desk. Their natural portability made them a menu mainstay.
That's also a main reason sandwiches dominate the lunch daypart. According to Technomic they make up 31% of all limited-service restaurant entrees and 15% of entrees at full-service restaurants, according to research from foodservice consultants Technomic.
But even as customers expect eveyday availability of turkey, ham and tuna salad sandwich classics, they also want more — in terms of ingredient, bread, and seasoning enhancements.
In its recent survey of more than 1,500 consumers Technomic also found that over one third (39%) of those eating at limited service restaurants and 51% at full service restaurants were not fully satisfied with available sandwich options, wanting new and unique ingredient offerings, flavors and combinations.
Technomic's Sandwich Consumer Trend Report (2008) offers many other insights into the sandwich segment. Among them:
Hand held comfort
Bold flavor profiles and the use of artisanal and premium breads, ingredients and sandwich spreads are growing trends in sandwich differentiation. The sandwich concept itself allows for a great deal of innovation as well as portability to meet the needs of consumers on the go.
Consumer interest in healthy sandwich ingredients continues to grow, with 44% of consumers wanting sandwiches made with locally-grown ingredients and 30% with organic ingredients.
Sandwiches, once viewed as lunch fare, are important to all dayparts. Toasted sandwiches and paninis are increasing in popularity as entrée options in the dinner daypart, while the portability of breakfast sandwiches boosts breakfast daypart sales. Sandwiches are also gaining ground in the growing away-from-home snacking segment.
These findings are no surprise to Special Events Manager Martha Monaghan at the University of Massachusetts (UMASS) at Amherst, MA. For four decades she has seen menu trends come and go.
Now for a limited time….
“Our sandwich customers know what they want to build and we had better have the components for them,” she says. “But today's student is definitely more interested in varied and healthy options than students were a decade ago,” she says. “And it's not only in terms of the main proteins, but also the condiments, breads and portion sizes.”
With this in mind, students were offered a new pita chicken sandwich during the UMASS new students orientation program this past July. The staff partnered with the California Avocado Commission and adapted a chicken pita recipe to fit customers requests for a healthful yet tasty option.
With a nod to the sub, a lemony-mustard-garlic vinaigrette is liberally sprinkled over a shredded chicken breast and served with an avocado/olive relish. After taste testing the original recipe, the UMASS foodservices staff grilled the bird to add even more flavor and tucked it all into a wheat pita for added “healthful” appeal. In five days they sold more than 750 “special” pitas — a nice debut for a new deli item.
It stands to reason that a standard menu item will benefit from a classic sales strategy: the “limited time offer (LTO)”. Found in virtually every segment of the retail industry, from cosmetics to automobile sales, it appeals to our desire as consumers to get it “while it's hot” and before it's sold out.
It's a great way to highlight seasonal ingredients with cache. “Aside from refreshing our core menu's two to three times a year, we promote special menu items with our “limited time offer” series,” says Chuck Hatfield, director of Product Development, for Sodexo Corporate Services.
Recently Sodexho offered B&I and college customers a special BBQ chicken breast sandwich.“The chicken sandwich is a known entity, but we ratcheted up the flavor with a sweet and savory mango salsa to keep the idea fresh,” he says.
Cool mint, green onions, red peppers and citrus juice round out the flavor of the condiment. The sandwich is further embellished with creamy avocado slices, crsipy lettuce, fresh cilantro, and a drizzle of more BBQ sauce — all layered on a crusty Ciabatta roll.
The savory and the sweet
The foodservices staff at Miami University in Oxford, OH, takes the classic PB&J to new heights. “Our most successful sandwich promotion by far featured a special PB&J program made with local and organic jellies, jams and organic peanut butter,” says Karen Ann Recker, manager of culinary services.
The choice of jellies include black raspberry, cherry, red raspberry and cinnamon apple spread made from local fruit. A local baker provided oatmeal pecan, whole wheat, sunflower bran, buttermilk white and a banana yeast bread.
“We offered this special promotion twice last year and were overwhelmed with positive feedback. We'll be offering this special more often this year.”
Capitalizing on the seasonal angle, Anthony Marino, catering chef at Powers Center at Duquesne University, Pittsburgh, PA, won the grand prize in Aramark's 2008 California Strawberry Inspirations Recipe Contest sponsored by the California Strawberry Commission. His Cali Paradise Club Sandwich was served on a ‘fast track’ promotion (limited time) last October and is now available on a seasonal basis on the catering and faculty dining menus.
“Because the contest was billed as strawberry inspirations I wanted to showcase the fruit as more versatile and something other than a sweet dessert ingredient,” says Marino.
He pairs a savory French roll, seasoned with pepper and Parmesan cheese, with a slightly sweet ricotta cheese spread, fresh sliced strawberries, tender bibb lettuce and smoky honey-pepper bacon. The sandwich is served with a strawberry and Feta salad sprinled with toasted almonds — inspired indeed.
Brown Bag Value Options
In these tough economic times many people are opting to bring their own lunches to work. How can operators compete with homemade?
Sodexo recently rolled out a brown baggers dream — Simply To Go Basics sandwiches in a brown box (below) or a basics bundle (add a side and beverage). “We offer basic sandwiches but with a twist like adding dijon to egg salad or tarragon to tuna,” says Chuck Hatfield, director of product development. They seem perfect for those days when customers simply couldn't make it themselves — due to lack of inspiration or time!
“Salad” sandwich days
Operators listed both tuna and egg salad sandwiches as customer favorites. For some innovative add-in’s consider these:
Items that could be added to egg salad:
• ranch dressing, sweet red pepper, chopped seeded tomatoes, & balsamic vinegar
• reduced fat mayonnaise, chopped zucchini, green onions, chopped celery, lemon juice & italian seasoning
• italian salad dressing, chopped onion, pickle relish, chopped parsley & paprika
• cucumber-ranch salad dressing, chopped spinach, bean sprouts, salad shrimp, & soy sauce
• chopped dried cranberries, chopped walnuts, dried thyme & dried thyme leaves
• crumbled blue cheese, neufchatel cheese, chopped dried apricots, sun-dried tomatoes, & ground clove
• Plain yogurt, neufchatel cheese, pickle relish, green onions & chopped cooked ham
• Parsley, pecans, sweet red pepper, blue cheese, green onion, minced garlic & red pepper sauce
• capers, feta cheese, roasted red pepper, basil leaves, & roma tomatoes
• sour cream, dill, cucumbers, & tomatoes
• chopped bacon bits, chopped chives & dried mustard
Items that could be added to a tuna (or salmon) salad:
• light peppercorn ranch dressing, herbed croutons, torn romaine, sprinkle of parmesan
• diced avocado, diced tomato, mayonnaise • black beans, corn, green onion, cumin mayonnaise
• mayonnaise, rice wine vinegar, chopped green onion, soy sauce, chopped fresh cilantro, fresh ginger, garlic salt, wasabi powder
• finely chopped red onion, celery, and capers, juice of half of a lemon, pinch ( or two)of dill, minced fresh parsley, dijon mustard, cottage cheese and mayonnaise to moisten
• finely chopped apples, stuffed green olives, and celery, sliced green onion, minced dill weed ( dry or fresh), Tabasco or worcestershire sauce, juice of 1⁄2 lime
• finely chopped celery, grated carrot, grated onion, minced golden raisins, curry powder, dijon mustard, mayonnaise to moisten and bind
• grated carrot, grated celery, sun flower seeds, salt and pepper to taste, dill weed, equal parts of plain yogurt and low fat mayonnaise.
• Herbed Egg Salad 
• Mango Avocado Chicken Ciabatta 
• Southeast Asian Salmon Sub with Chile-Lime Dressing
• Swiss Broccoli Tomato Melt
• Grilled Filet Mignon Sandwich with Avocado Gorgonzola 
• BELT Sandwich (Bacon, Egg, Lettuce & Tomato) 
• Cali Paradise Club Sandwich with California Strawberries and Strawberry-Feta Salad 
• Tomato “Sandwich” Nicoise 
• Roasted Turkey and Grape Wraps with Quick Mole Sauce 
• Chicken Breast Pita Sandwich with Avocado and Olives