Strength In Sandwiches
By Pat Dando
Healthier Image, Greater Variety Sustain Sandwich Popularity
Which came first, the decline of the reign of the hamburger or consumers’ new allegiance to the sandwich?
About the same time that McDonald’s, Burger King and Wendy’s started to stumble, the fast casual masters such as Panera and Corner Bakery were coming on strong.
Subway started emphasizing a health and “good for you (and your waistline, too)” positioning. And Quizno’s positioned itself for rapid expansion, opening 1,500 units since 2000, with a current total of 2,500. Of course, that doesn’t come close to Subway’s 25,000-plus units or even Arby’s 3,500-plus.
Everyone is fighting for a bigger share of our stomachs, and the folks in the sandwich/bakery area are doing a very fine job indeed. When obesity and unhealthy eating came to the forefront nearly three years ago, the hamburger was socially correct, fast, convenient and a good value. Now, after all of the focus and threats of lawsuits, the hamburger is questionable as our food of choice.
According to a recent study conducted by Technomic Consultants, $105 billion is spent annually on hand-held food items. That is roughly 25% of the $430 million total foodservice sales. David Henkes of Technomic explains that the study concludes that hamburgers will grow at only 0.5% per year for the next three years while deli, sub and hoagie sandwiches are expected to grow at a very healthy 6% per year.
Hot sandwiches and the taco/burrito categories are anticipated to have an attractive 4.5% growth rate. We are already seeing that the big-three hamburger chains’ current growth is coming from new salad and sandwich offerings — not hamburgers.
The sandwich players have the luxury of having a lot of foods to play with. First there is the bread (or bread alternative). Everything must be fresh and that is why almost all chains bake their bread on-premises. Ordinary white or wheat just won’t cut it today.
Panera offers sandwiches on Ciabatta, three types of Focaccia (Asiago cheese, Rosemary & Onion and Basil Pesto), Asiago cheese, Artisan Three Cheese and a host of other upscale bread selections.
According to Foodbeat Inc., a Wheaton, Ill.-based firm that tracks menu changes for the 200 largest restaurant chains, the mention of panini on chain menus has more than doubled over the past four years. Many more are termed as warmed, grilled or toasted. Hot sandwiches (other than hamburgers) are in a definite growth mode.
As consumers seek higher taste profiles in everything they eat, sandwiches are no exception. Often the overall flavor is achieved through the sauces or condiments used to permeate all of the other ingredients. The days of strictly ketchup, mustard and mayonnaise are probably gone forever.
Subway and other sandwich chains have upgraded their meats as well as their display areas. Customers want their food fast, but they also like to see their sandwich being assembled and provide instructions to the sandwich maker.
Cosi Inc., New York, (soon moving its headquarters to Chicago) holds 80-plus units and was built on a concept developed in Paris. A “crackly crust” bread baked throughout the day in an open-flame, stone-hearth oven is the “star” of the operation.
Cosi ran into some rather serious problems, largely due to mismanagement. Now a turnaround appears to be in sight and the company is ready for further expansion.
According to Paul Seidman, vice president, Food & Beverage, Cosi’s typical customer is described as “Metro Elite”  18-34 year-olds, with no children. The average check falls in the $8 to $9 range.
The most popular sandwich is the Tomato, Basil and Mozzarella, with or without chicken. Limited-time-offer sandwiches are also popular, accounting for 15% of sales.
Seidman explains that “aggressive flavor builders are very popular. You have to present them with balance, such as in our roast beef with wasabi mayonnaise and pickled ginger, for a touch of sweetness. There are subtleties in how you can obtain layered flavors and complex flavors.”
All this makes the sandwich category of the foodservice industry the right place to be at this time.
Editor’s Note: This article appeared in a previous issue of Stagnito’s New Products magazine.