Consumers step up restaurant sandwich purchases

by Eric Schroeder
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CHICAGO — A new study from market research firm Technomic shows the number of consumers purchasing sandwiches away from home is on the rise, boosted in large part to operators’ innovative responses to consumer demands for lower prices, greater variety, fresher fare, flexible portions and healthier items.

The survey, “Sandwich Consumer Trend Report,” examined consumer behavior, preferences and attitudes regarding sandwiches based on on-line survey results from 1,500 consumers earlier this year.

Technomic found consumers said they now purchase 49% of their sandwiches at restaurants or other food service locations, up from 44% in 2010. Consumers also appear to be eating more sandwiches, as 43% of those surveyed by Technomic said they eat at least four sandwiches each week, up from 39% in 2010.

More than 9 out of 10 consumers surveyed said they purchased a sandwich away from home at least once in the past 60 days, up from about 4 out of 5 who said the same in 2010.

“Today’s consumer expects greater customization and broader sandwich options,” said Darren Tristano, executive vice-president of Technomic. “Trends in portion flexibility, variety, freshness and shareability have come to the forefront of this segment. Shareable options give operators a chance to go beyond the standard menu and try new ethnic sandwiches. Often these ethnic and next-level sandwiches, which focus on gourmet ingredients and toppings, are introduced through mini sandwiches or wraps. Giving consumers smaller, shareable portion options can be considered as healthier with less calories. This trend shows no signs of slowing down.”

The trend toward grab-and-go sandwiches was evident in the increase in the number of consumers who said they sometimes purchase these products, up to 55% in 2012 from 39% in 2010.

In addition, 31% of consumers said they would like more restaurants to offer mini-sandwiches, up from 26% in 2010, according to Technomic. Consumers in the 25-34 age bracket were most likely to request mini-sandwiches, as 41% said they would like more restaurants to offer mini-sandwiches that may be eaten as a snack or light meal, up from 26% in 2010.

The reasons consumers prefer sandwiches for lunch ran the gamut. While 68% said it “satisfies my hunger,” 44% said it was “good price,” 41% mentioned “it is my favorite sandwich for any meal,” 32% said it was “healthy,” 30% noted “good portion size,” and 19% identified “portable” and “high quality.”

In terms of consumption behavior, burgers were purchased away from home more often than any other type of sandwich by a wide margin, but monthly consumption of all sandwiches increased compared with two years ago, Technomic said, with the sharpest increase seen for breakfast, deli and salad sandwiches, such as chicken and tuna salad.

When it comes to attitudes regarding sandwiches, Technomic found two out of five consumers, and nearly half of those aged 18-34, stick to their preferred sandwich build every time they order a sandwich.

However, the majority of consumers do not strongly agree, suggesting that most consumers prefer some degree of variety in their sandwich orders.

Another shift appears to be taking place in demand for toasted or grilled sandwiches, which now are preferred by more than two in five consumers. This compared with just a third of consumers in 2010. In addition, more consumers are willing to wait for the toasted or grilled sandwiches and do not mind paying more for them.

Technomic’s report also identified several trends to watch in the sandwich category, including:

• Ethnic sandwiches — “Ethnic sandwiches continue to make inroads on restaurant menus,” Technomic said. “Sparking this globally inspired trend are Vietnamese-style sandwiches and Mexican favorites that extend beyond the standard tacos and burritos.”
• Gourmet grilled cheese — “A simply American sandwich staple is getting an update, as whole concepts are being built on the appeal of high-end, high-quality grilled cheese,” Technomic said.
• Targeting preferences for mini-sandwiches — The trend toward mini foods is not slowing down, according to Technomic.
• Innovative sandwich preparations and toppings — “Next level sandwich builds feature eclectic ingredients and toppings, from specialty condiments to unexpected components that add bold flavor and craveable new textures to sandwiches,” Technomic noted.

For the full report, visit www.technomic.com.

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