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Sandwiches Increasingly Proving Their Versatility

ROCKVILLE, Md. — Restaurateurs, food retailers and culinary masterminds are becoming more excited about the versatility and customer appeal of sandwiches.

Some 74 percent of quick-service restaurants now feature sandwiches on their menus, and an impressive 62 percent of fine-dining restaurants feature sandwiches. In each case, sandwiches are more prevalently featured than portable, sandwich-like competition such as burgers, hot dogs and pizza, according to a new report Sandwiches: Culinary Trend Tracking Series, published by Rockville-based Packaged Facts.

Just as important, away-from-home options for grabbing a sandwich are increasingly extending beyond restaurants, cafes and fast food into the retail sector. Some 16 percent of respondents to Packaged Facts’ survey indicated they had gotten a sandwich at a supermarket or convenience store within the last week, illustrating the broadening reach of made-to-order deli and other foodservice options within food retailing channels.

Beyond the variety of sandwich types around which a menu can be built, foodservice operators are seeking to capitalize on the sandwich’s customizable versatility as a vehicle for all manner of novel ingredients. This includes sandwiches featuring authentic multicultural ingredients, underutilized or even novel bread and protein options, and unique flavor combinations that marry the savory and sweet.

“Leveraging progressive food sourcing and food preparation practices, restaurants and food manufacturers are increasingly focused on providing sandwiches that are fresh, naturally produced, locally sourced, and either culturally authentic or genuinely creative in culinary concept,” said David Sprinkle, research director at Packaged Facts. “This focus dovetails with two of the most important consumer drivers in the sandwich market — the demand for flavor adventure and authenticity."

The Eight Sandwiches Gaining Prominence

The new Packaged Facts report also highlighted eight sandwich types that are gaining in importance on restaurant menus and in prepared foods/deli retailing. International and regional influences are notably evident, as is the desire for bolder flavors and healthier alternatives. They include:

  • Garden tartines: From a French word that means “slice of bread,” the tartine can be made with all manner of ingredients (from a rich topping of foie gras or smoked salmon to a few slices of ham with butter).
  • Tortas and cemitas: Mexico’s beloved tortas and cemitas are trending, thanks to interest in international sandwiches and street foods, and to the development of the quality and experience-oriented fast-casual restaurant segment.
  • Croque monsieur and madame: With an interest in culturally authentic international cuisine revolutionizing diners’ choices, the croque monsieur or madame provide a fresh take on familiar ingredients — and there is no shortage of options for variations.
  • Brisket sandwich: Brisket is trending as comfort food continues its culinary ascent. Brisket both on and off of sandwiches is one of the hottest regional American trends, even in New York City and on non-barbecue menus.
  • Cuban sandwich: The Cuban Sandwich, or Cubano, layers ham, roast pork, Swiss cheese, pickles (and sometimes salami, Tampa style) on lard-based Cuban bread, and then is pressed like a panini into gooey, crusty goodness. The Cuban is enjoying a renaissance across the United States as chefs explore a variety of ingredient combinations or simply upgrade classic recipes.
  • Sweet and savory sandwiches: The use of jam in hot or cold sandwiches increased to 11 percent of restaurants serving sandwiches in 2014, with usage in hot sandwiches nearly doubling over that period.
  • Protein-based salad sandwiches: Like most classic sandwiches, the protein-based salad sandwich has been transformed in recent years by upgrades to fillings, condiments, sauces, breads and accompaniments.
  • Breakfast sandwiches: Terms like natural, local, seasonal and sustainable are increasingly catching consumers’ eyes on menus and packaging, yet are four times more likely to appear on non-breakfast items, leaving plenty of opportunity for catchup in the breakfast sandwich space.
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