By Kathleen Furore
That standing invitation beckons hungry customers to 7 Sandwich Shop (7sandwichshop.com), a fast casual, deli-style restaurant that debuted in September in the Chicago suburb of Oak Park, Ill. There, in a small storefront just a half-block from a Potbelly Sandwich Shop and a few blocks from Panera Bread, Owner Natali Jaimes and her team work “in relentless pursuit of sandwich perfection.”
According to Jaimes, the menu is inspired by her heritage (mom from the Dominican Republic, father’s family from South America), as well as street foods she’s sampled during her travels. The food she serves is designed to take patrons on “great journeys” to the seven continents around the globe with sandwiches like the Thai Beef Roll, The Cuban, the Pastor Torta and the Tandoor.
''I didn't always know it was going to be sandwiches. However, I did know I wanted to focus more on an international street cuisine," Jaimes says.
“Stop in and enjoy a bite of the world between bread.”
The Cuban, from 7 Sandwich Shop, is slow roasted pork, forest ham, shaved pickle, brown mustard, swiss cheese on a telera roll.
"The fact that my store is located near Potbelly and Panera didn’t steer me away from my concept. I acknowledge that those are also sandwich shops, but I believe that 7 Sandwich Shop has distinctive qualities that set it apart from other sandwich chains. At 7, we created a street atmosphere by bringing in a local artist to display cool graffiti along the walls to go along with the simple yet eclectic menu. My team and I try to keep things interesting by introducing unique sandwiches that encompass our traveling experiences as well as our passion for some good street food.”
Judging from recent data about Americans’ sandwich consumption, Jaimes’ decision to focus on the category was savvy. According to the 2014 Sandwich Consumer Trend Report from Chicago-based Technomic, Inc, more than two-fifths of consumers eat at least four sandwiches per week and 95 percent eat at least one.
While sandwiches remain a staple of our weekly diet, consumer behavior is not stagnant. Average weekly sandwich consumption has dropped slightly from 3.8 to 3.6 sandwiches per week from 2012 to 2014, the Trend Report concludes. In addition, it shows that sandwich-loving consumers are increasingly preparing sandwiches themselves—54 percent in 2014 versus 51 percent in 2012. That trend, Technomic notes, poses both a challenge and an opportunity for operators and suppliers. The Trend Report suggests that deli operators should focus on hard-to-duplicate items and high-quality ingredients to entice consumers.
“Quality sandwich ingredients are a must,” says Darren Tristano, executive vice president of Technomic, Inc.
“In order for sandwich operators to drive traffic and steal share, they have to strengthen the quality perception by promoting freshness and customization opportunities, while giving guests a more interesting range of toppings, breads and proteins that emphasize variety.”
Sandwiches By the Numbers
Understanding the way customers shop for sandwiches, as well as their culinary preferences, is key to successfully developing and marketing sandwich menus—whether you’re a sandwich shop, an in-store deli/prepared foods department, or a manufacturer of deli meats and cheeses. The following takeaways from the Technomic 2014 sandwich report provide a glimpse into consumers’ sandwich preferences:
*Think speedy and portable.
Three out of every five sandwiches consumers order—an impressive 61 percent—are taken to go, and 49 percent of consumers sometimes purchase grab-and-go sandwiches.
*“Mini” is big!
Thirty-seven percent of consumers buy mini sandwiches on a monthly basis; 35 percent want
more restaurants to offer mini-sandwiches; and six percent say mini sandwiches are their preferred sandwich for a snack.
*Lunch is prime time.
Eighty-five percent of respondents had ordered a sandwich away from home at least once a month at lunchtime.
*Quality and quantity matter.
Today’s diners place more importance on the quality of bread, cheese and condiments and the quantity of ingredients in each sandwich they order than they did in 2012. Forty-three percent say they would pay more for sandwiches with higher-quality ingredients, while 33 percent would pay a premium for brand-name ingredients.
*Healthy is hot.
Most consumers prioritize health for sandwiches at lunch (51 percent) and dinner (53 percent), and just 43 percent are satisfied with the healthfulness of sandwiches bought away from home.
*What’s inside counts.
Consumers are most likely to order chicken breast (47 percent), bacon (42 percent), ham (36 percent) and roast beef (35 percent) when selecting fillings for lunch sandwiches.
*Unique and ethnic flavors entice.
Asian influences are on the rise (think bánh mi sandwiches, Chinese bao bread, and condiments like curry and chutney). One-third of consumers say they are more likely to try new or unique flavors on sandwiches than on other foods, and nearly the same proportion demand more restaurants offer ethnic sandwiches and ingredients. That means adding those flavors can help differentiate menus and deliver a competitive edge.
*Bring on the specialty breads.
Three in 10 consumers (31 percent), and 36 percent of women report a penchant for specialty breads. Among the popular breads finding their way onto sandwich menus—particularly in the Limited Service Restaurant (LSR) segment—are focaccia, ciabatta, pretzel bread, waffles and naan.
What Consumers Want
The Market Responds
Successful sandwich shops are appealing to customers’ desires for more interesting sandwich offerings.
At 7 Sandwich Shop, unique, ethnic-inspired offerings include the Thai Beef Roll with marinated sirloin, lemongrass, ginger, green onion and carrot-peanut salad on a sesame roll; The Cuban, slow roasted pork, forest ham, shaved pickle, brown mustard and Swiss cheese on a telera roll; the Pastor Torta with seasoned pork, pineapple, cilantro crema, lettuce and tomato on a bolillo roll; and The Tandoor, chicken marinated in exotic spices with masala cream and pickled radish, then wrapped in naan bread. The Thai Beef Roll and The Cuban are most popular, although “our other sandwiches are just as delicious!” Jaimes says.
Firehouse Subs Sriracha Beef™ Sandwich
In April 2014, answering consumers’ call for lighter, healthier fare, Firehouse Subs introduced its Hearty & Flavorful, Under 500 Calories Menu that was billed as “the largest and most significant menu addition in the company’s 19-year history.”
The lower-cal creations all feature the same portion of meat as a medium sub, plus Sargento® Monterrey Jack cheese, Duke’s Light Mayonnaise, lettuce, tomato and onion on a private recipe light wheat roll. Selections include Sriracha Beef™ (USDA Choice roast beef with spicy Sriracha sauce); Hook & Ladder Light™ (smoked turkey breast, Virginia honey ham and deli mustard); Turkey Salsa Verde™ (smoked turkey breast with salsa verde sauce); Captain Sorensen’s Datil Pepper Grilled Chicken™ (grilled chicken with Captain Sorensen’s® Datil Pepper Sauce); and Turkey & Cranberry™ (smoked turkey breast with cranberry spread).
TOP LIMITED SERVICE OTHER (NON-HAMBURGER) SANDWICH CHAINS BY MARKET SHARE
In its 2014 Top 500 Chain Restaurant Report, Technomic did a deep dive into the Limited-Service Other (non-hamburger) Sandwich Segment. While Subway, Arby’s and Jimmy John’s Gourmet Sandwiches lead the pack, several other concepts are among a list of the fastest-growing sandwich chains in the marketplace today, as the chart shows.
Marketing to the health-conscious crowd, Schlotzsky’s added Udi’s Gluten Free® buns to its menu in October 2014 (its 43rd birthday month)–a move that came just one year after the company marked its 42nd anniversary by rolling out a small version of The Original sandwich, made with three meats, cheeses, tomato, olives and dressing on a baked sourdough bun.
As competition for diners’ dollars grows, businesses with sandwiches that distinguish them from the myriad of players in the marketplace will be those that thrive.
“Differentiation is key to growing sales in today’s take-share environment…Operators can leverage the familiarity of sandwiches to use them as a platform for experimentation with new and innovative ingredients without alienating consumers,” the Technomic Sandwich Report concludes.
“Quality sandwich ingredients are a must,” says Darren Tristano, executive vice president of Technomic, Inc." In order for sandwich operators to drive traffic and steal share, they have to strengthen the quality perception by promoting freshness and customization opportunities.”
—Darren Tristano, executive vice president of Technomic, Inc.
Though the Baby Boomer generation helped to define and embody the 1960’s term “generation gap,” entrepreneur Elliot Fread, founder of Long Island, New York’s Bimmy’s Food Made with Love, believes that the sandwich preferences of Boomers and Millennials are narrowing today’s gap and driving a trend that has far-reaching implications.
“The Millennials I’m observing and talking to in our restaurants are moving away from overly processed foods. They are demanding ‘freshness’ and valuing food that is ‘locally sourced’ even more than ‘organically grown,’ a descriptor they have learned to approach with great skepticism, ” Fread believes.
“Likewise, the Baby Boomers we serve are interested in healthy choices, flavorful ingredients and freshness, more from the standpoint of preserving their longevity and quality of life,” Fread relates. “They have more discretionary income and are willing to trade cost for their perception of quality.”
Both generational groups, Fread contends, “are willing to either spend a bit more or accept somewhat smaller portions to effectively balance flavor, freshness and affordability. Those preferences are binding the two generations and creating a powerful trend of change in our industry.”
Of course, these consumer preferences and trends create challenges for companies like Bimmy’s, a company that not only makes and serves sandwiches in their own deli restaurants, but also slices meats and cheeses, builds and packages thousands of sandwiches each week for sale in convenience stores, in-store delis and grab-n-go locations.
“Obviously, the desire for freshness and the move away from overly processed meats means less shelf life for our products, so we need to work more closely with our customers on their inventory costs and concerns,” Fread explains.
“We are also working closely with bakers in our area to help us produce the kinds of breads our customers want, in somewhat smaller sizes and depths that keep both costs and carbs under control,” he says. “Our customers are reading labels closely. They care about the number of ingredients listed and pay attention to details like the percentage of whole wheat in the flour we are using.”
With this constant attention to detail and continuous evolution in his products, it’s little wonder that many new opportunities have opened recently to Fread and Bimmy’s. In addition to working on new deli concepts within America’s largest drug store chain, Bimmy’s has recently begun to supply sandwiches to Gate Gourmet, supplier to Norwegian Airlines.
“In these days of fewer and more crowded flights, one way an airline can differentiate itself is the quality of the food served,” Fread, explains. “These passengers have money and are not willing to ‘settle’ in their personal lives. Why should they do so when they fly?”
“We now supply two premium sandwich choices, two economy and a variety of children’s meals on a seasonal basis, changing four times each year. The program seems to be well received and the comments back from passengers have been very positive,” Fread reports.
Freshness, and health concerns are melding generational sandwich preferences.
Elliot Fread, founder and owner of BIMMY’s – Food made with Love.