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SCHOOL Foodservice

Meaty Opportunities for Deli Vendors

By Kathleen Furore

When students at Affton Schools in St. Louis, Mo., head to the cafeteria for lunch, they find a lot more than the bland meat, mashed potatoes and soggy vegetables of yesteryear...


Instead, students attending the district’s primary and intermediate schools enjoy a wrap and salad bar featuring a choice of sliced meats, fresh vegetables and toppings. A daily featured item such as the Caesar Chicken Wrap is also a popular stop in the foodservice line.


At the high school, selections include the “Ready, Set Deli” sandwich wrap and salad bar; a daily specialty sandwich; plus grab and go lunch items such as bento boxes, fresh fruit, cheeses, and specialty cold sandwiches.

The Caesar Chicken Wrap is a popular stop in the foodservice line.

The fact that deli meats and cheeses are a hit with today’s students reflects the popularity of protein—a growing component on school foodservice menus, industry data shows.


It also means companies that purvey deli meats have a prime opportunity to capture a segment of school foodservice sales.

“As they move into middle and high school, their tastes become more adventurous and diverse to include more ethnic flavors and dishes,” Y-Pulse reports. “By high school, students’ eating habits begin to look very similar to those of college students as they become more conscious of food, nutrition and ethical values associated with food production and delivery.”

1.9 billion pounds is a lot of meat!


That’s the projected size of the school market for meat protein, according to figures from Foodservice Research Institute’s FlavorTrak® K-12 Menus, a database of school menu data.


“Meat protein’s share of the 1.9 billion pound market by daypart is 74 percent for lunch and 26 percent for breakfast in the US K-12 market,” Joseph Brady, managing director of Oak Park, Ill.-based Foodservice Research Institute, notes.

Breaking those numbers down even further provides a snapshot of the ways meat protein is being used within K-12 schools.


Sandwiches account for a 45 percent share of meat protein items on school menus, with turkey and cheese sandwiches coming in as the highest volume lunch sandwiches consumed. Ham and cheese, turkey ham and cheese, and other deli meat sandwiches are among other popular sandwiches featuring meat protein, FlavorTrak® reports.

Additional industry data reveals that students ranging from kindergartners to high school seniors are often on the same page when it comes to what they seek in school lunches. They want more food choices; like sandwiches; enjoy hand-held foods for on-the-go eating; and find made-to-order foods prepared in plain view particularly appealing, according to the Y-Pulse School Foodservice Leadership Survey. This study delved into the similarities and differences between elementary, middle and high school students when it comes to serving them meals at school.

Companies that purvey deli meats have a prime opportunity to capture a segment of school foodservice sales.

College students’ preferences also lean toward healthier options, data from The NPD Group shows.


Traffic to college and university (C&U) foodservice outlets, excluding on-campus chain restaurants, increased in the year ending March 2016 to 1.6 billion visits, with visits to C&U cafeterias driving most of that gain. “Many of the top growing foods at C&U were healthier in nature than in years past,” NPD reports.


“College and university foodservice operators no longer view students as a captive audience, they see them as customers and are giving them what they want,” says Annie Roberts, vice president, NPD’s SupplyTrack, a monthly service that tracks every product shipped from major foodservice broadline distributors to over 500,000 commercial and non-commercial operators. 

Understanding what is popular with today’s school kids is important for deli meat manufacturers interested in serving the category. Understanding the challenges schools face in serving those items is equally important, according to Larry Atseff, the Foodservice Research Institute’s vice president of sales and marketing.


“For example, school use of meat proteins is affected by tight budgets and nutritional requirements, such as lower sodium,” Atseff says. “Since meat is more expensive than carbs, veggies and fruits, schools have to consider the cost of meats and nutritional values of meat types, as well as the size of meat portions.


Schools are constantly balancing costs, nutrition and tastes when selecting proteins for menus.”

Deli meat vendors are in a prime position to help schools find ways to balance what students want with what their institutions’ budgets can afford—and profit in the process.

“There is an opportunity for meat protein manufacturers…they should manufacture product offerings, promotional materials and recipes that embrace all cuisines,” Roberts advises. Roberts agrees that vendors can play a role in that balancing process.


“With higher education budgets tightening, foodservice distributors and manufacturers can assist C&U foodservice operators by focusing in on their customers’ diverse needs,” Roberts concludes.

What Schools Must Consider

Tracking Students’ Preferences

1. Ever wonder where the sandwich got its name?

It is named after the man credited with creating the first sandwich, John Montagu, the fourth Earl of Sandwich.  Legend has it that he was unwilling to free up both hands during a 24-hour gambling event in order to eat.  Instead, he asked his servant to put the meat from his meal between two slices of bread so he could hold it in one hand and continue gambling. Ease, convenience, and portability right from the start!

2. Do you know what the most popular sandwich in America is?

If you guessed peanut butter and jelly, you would be close since on average, we each will have eaten about 1,500 PB&Js by the time we graduate from high school.  The most popular sandwich is the plain, ordinary ham sandwich followed by second place finisher the BLT.

3. How many sandwiches do Americans eat every day?
It might seem strange, but Americans eat more than 300 million sandwiches each and every day.  This is an amazing statistic since there are slightly more than 300 million Americans and not everyone eats a sandwich everyday!

4. What sandwich helped keep Americans fed during the Great Depression?

With the price of peanut butter today, you may not believe it, but the PB&J offered a lot of nutrition for a low cost.  This was due in part to two crucial advances in food delivery, the development of the process for making peanut butter and the adoption of the process for pre-slicing and packaging bread.  These two advances made the necessary ingredients readily available at a reasonable cost just in time to help feed the families struggling through the depression.

5. Why do we call sandwiches served on oblong rolls subs?
You might think it is because the rolls themselves are shaped kind of like submarines but that is not where the name comes from.  Legend has it that during World War II, a deli in New London, Connecticut got an order for 500 hero sandwiches from a local Navy submarine base.  As a result, the employees of the deli started referring to the hero as a “sub”.  The name stuck and in most parts of the country you are more likely to see subs on the menu than heros.


from 6 Fun Facts about the Sandwich by Fill Your Plate (
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