When consumers face financial challenges, they’re much more likely to make food—especially sandwiches—at home. However, an improving US economy is encouraging consumers to source more sandwiches away from home.

Technomic’s “2016 Sandwich Consumer Trend Report” shows consumers eat nearly four sandwiches per week, creating opportunities to entice them with sandwich offerings. Providing unique flavors and ingredients that consumers can’t replicate at home is crucial. Operators can capitalize on growing consumer interest in breakfast, chicken and ethnic sandwiches to drive traffic and increase sales.

The popularity of all-day breakfast has influenced sandwich menu development beyond typical breakfast hours. Egg sandwiches are appearing on more limited-service restaurant menus at lunch and dinner, and specialty breakfast sandwiches with unique breads and proteins are trending at both LSRs and FSRs.

A quarter of consumers say they would order a lunch sandwich featuring egg as a protein, and 41% of consumers aged 18-34 say they are purchasing breakfast sandwiches away from home more often—beyond typical breakfast hours—than  they were a year ago. Expect to see chains continue to launch breakfast sandwiches featuring premium and differentiated ingredients, not only at breakfast but also for lunch or dinner.

Operators also can differentiate their sandwich offerings, by adding sandwiches with international influences. Since 2013, Cuban sandwiches have increased 4% on menus, and Vietnamese banh mi sandwich mentions have doubled on top restaurant chain menus. Technomic data shows demand exists for even more ethnic flavors in sandwiches.

Consumers most prefer Italian and Mexican sandwiches but also report interest in less common ethnic varieties, like Korean and Cambodian sandwiches. Korean barbecue has been trending, and other Korean flavors—such as Korean-style short ribs, fried chicken, bulgogi and kimchee—are finding their way into sandwiches on independent menus.

Some of the fastest growing sandwich flavors on top chain menus since 2014 include sriracha (up 80%), chili (up 59%) and mango (up 33%), all of which are ethnic-inspired. Other trending ethnic ingredients include pickled carrots, chili mayonnaises and yogurts, black pepper and peppercorn, as well as catfish, shrimp and Khmer sausage.

A more traditional sandwich protein offering is chicken, but consumers now show more interest in chicken breast sandwiches for lunch and snacks. Chicken can help meet demands for both health and variety; it easily can be paired with many different flavors, providing options for uniqueness and healthfulness.

Many foodservice providers already offer this sandwich staple, so differentiation will be key. Some recent menu examples with more distinct flavor profiles include the Santa Fe Chicken Sandwich from Foster’s Grille, which features grilled chicken in a chipotle-lime marinade. This year, Wildflower Bread Company rolled out a Crispy Un-Fried Chicken sandwich with chicken breast, Gorgonzola, wildflower crisps and a spicy-ranch slaw on a grilled ciabatta roll.

Consumers are looking for tasty, craveable sandwiches at all hours of the day, whether for a full meal or a snack. Offering items guests can’t make at home—by incorporating breakfast proteins, ethnic ingredients and chicken breast—could help capture these occasions.    


Originally appeared in the September, 2016 issue of Prepared Foods as Interest Spreads for Sandwiches.