Whether built on a bun, a tortilla or between slices of bread, sandwiches remain one of Americans’ favorite convenient meal solutions. U.S. consumers eat an average of 3.6 sandwiches a week, Technomic’s 2014 “Sandwich Consumer Trend Report” finds.
However, they’re preparing more of their sandwiches (54%) at home. Consumers estimate that 54% of their sandwiches are made at home. In 2012, that share was 51%. Further, they’re not overwhelmingly satisfied with the variety of sandwiches offered at limited- or full-service restaurants (around 55% report being satisfied with their restaurant sandwich options), and they see room for improvement on the availability of more healthful choices.
This indicates an opportunity for new, out-of-the-lunchbox choices that present a differentiated offering amid a slew of sandwich options. What would consumers like to see more of on sandwich menus? Five key findings from the “Sandwich Consumer Trend Report”:
- Make it Mini. More than one third of consumers (37%) buy mini-sandwiches on a monthly basis, and a growing share—35%, up from 31% in 2012 and 26% in 2010—say they’d like to see more restaurants offer mini-sandwiches they can eat as a snack
- Asian Flavors Accelerate. Spicy sriracha has made its way to the mainstream, with Subway rolling out the Sriracha Chicken Melt and Sriracha Steak Melt late last year, and Bruegger’s Bagels debuting a Sriracha Egg Sandwich earlier in 2013. This spring, Au Bon Pain rolled out a Chicken Wasabi Wrap, and California-based casual-dining chain Lazy Dog Restaurant & Bar added a Sriracha Chicken Sandwich, described as Lazy Dog’s version of a Vietnamese banh mi. Worth noting: 39% of consumers ages 25-44 say they’d like to see more ethnic sandwich options on menus.
- Specialty Bread Can Help a Sandwich Stand Out. Interestingly, enthusiasm for specialty breads is highest among women and Hispanic consumers. Some 35% of female consumers and 40% of Hispanic consumers say they like specialty breads, such as focaccia, for their sandwiches. Following pretzel buns’ breakout year in 2013, this year is showing rollouts of sandwiches made on ciabatta (Wendy’s, Starbucks and Caribou Coffee) and flatbreads (Potbelly Sandwich Shop, Fuddruckers).
- More Healthful Choices Prevent Veto Votes. Freshness by far is most important to guests; 55% say they’d be more likely to buy and would pay at least slightly more for a sandwich described as fresh. Significant shares also express interest in organic (31%), low-calorie (25%), low-fat (24%) and low-sodium (24%) sandwich options. Notably, in April, both Potbelly Sandwich Shop and Firehouse Subs announced the debut of lower-calorie sandwiches: Potbelly’s are made on its new multigrain flatbread, and Firehouse Subs’ use smaller buns, lighter cheeses and light mayonnaise to keep their calorie count down.
- Spicy Flavors Gain Favor at Breakfast. More than half of consumers (54%) now say they prefer spicy sauces, dips and condiments to mild ones, according to Technomic’s 2013 “Flavor Consumer Trend Report,” and hot/spicy/smoky flavors are now proliferating on breakfast sandwich menus. In November, Dunkin’ Donuts debuted a limited-time, Spicy Smoked Sausage Breakfast Sandwich with andouille sausage. Taco Bell incorporates a creamy jalapeno sauce into several items in its new breakfast lineup, including the A.M. Crunchwrap with bacon and the Steak and Egg Burrito.
Many consumers are demanding more innovative sandwich builds: customizable options, available in a choice of portion sizes, and that feature bold flavors inspired by tastes from around the globe.