In recent months, prominent introductions of new sandwich selections at major food service outlets have been identified as a promising sign for grain-based foods. Even as supermarket sales of commercial sliced bread have flagged, the introduction of products, such as the expanding line of breakfast sandwiches at Dunkin’ Donuts, has offered anecdotal evidence of energy in the U.S. bread market.

Now data have been released affirming the striking strength of the restaurant sandwich market. A report by the analyst group Technomic indicated that 49% of consumers were purchasing sandwiches from food service locations early in 2012, up from 44% in 2010. Given that U.S. eating habits tend to shift gradually rather than abruptly, the jump is startling, suggesting that the figures ought to be studied in further surveys (Technomic conducted an on-line survey of 1,500 consumers). Respondents also told Technomic they were eating more sandwiches than in the past, with 43% eating four a week, up from 39% in 2010.

The results showed a sharp increase in purchases of “grab-and-go” sandwiches at restaurants and that the preference for toasted sandwiches was edging upward versus non-toasted. The data seem to indicate the volume drop in commercial sliced bread should not be analyzed entirely as a result of chronic economic softness (a theory that did not make great sense to begin with). To the contrary, a growing number of consumers seem to be demonstrating convenience and added value are accounting for shifts in their purchases away from the supermarket bread aisle.