According to Food Genius, a Chicago-based technology firm, 78 percent of all restaurant menus include one or more sandwich (excluding burgers) with a national average number of 14 sandwiches per restaurant menu.
Last year, market research firm Technomic reported a bump in away-from-home sandwich purchases attributable to consumer demand for lower prices, more variety, fresher and healthier items and flexible portions. The demand has even trickled into the morning daypart, with breakfast sandwich appearances on menus up 8.1 percent compared to last year.
"Never before have we seen such a demand for customization at restaurants, especially in the quick-serve and fast-casual segments," said Peter Parthenis Jr., CEO and president of Grecian Delight Foods.
Because of this trend, operators have sought out distinct offerings from Grecian Delight Foods, such as naan, lavash, Skinny Buns, Focaccia Flats and spreads such as hummus and yogurt sauces.
Even major chains have embraced sandwich differentiation. Arby's, for example, just launched its classic roast beef sandwich on a Kings Hawaiian bun. Wendy's rolled out an artisan flatbread platform, while Blimpie, Subway and Cousins Subs have all experimented with pretzel bread.
Wraps are also becoming a more ubiquitous sandwich carrier. McDonald's has had early success with its Chicken McWrap, which has even boosted the chain's "healthy brand perception," according to recent research by BrandIndex. Chick-fil-A, Burger King and Dunkin' Donuts have also added wrap options to their menus.
Vegetarian options accommodate more customers
According to the Humane Research Council, 47 percent of U.S. adults eat one or more vegetarian meals per week. Many chains, including Moe's Southwest Grill and Epic Burger, have taken part in this nationwide initiative that encourages restaurants to offer vegetarian options on their menus.
Nontraditional sandwich carriers are an ideal platform to create a broader vegetarian menu, according to Benjamin Stanley, vice president of Product at Food Genius. Flatbread, in particular, is a versatile format for vegetarian options.
"When used as a sandwich, a flatbread is 12 percent more likely to mention a vegetable than something between a bun. A way to leverage health into this is by using the flatbread to contain a salad and turn it into a portable option for something that is already perceived as healthy," Stanley added.
Technomic's research shows that specialty breads offer a strong avenue for sandwich differentiation, and Focaccia, ciabatta and sourdough have seen modest increases on menus, in addition to flatbreads. Grab-and-go sandwiches also reflect the shift toward increased convenience and snacking in between traditional meal times.
Because back-of-the-house space tends to be limited, operators should ideally seek out one item that can serve several purposes, according to Food Genius.
"I think overall, the story on flatbreads and alternative sandwich breads is entirely about versatility," Stanley said. "Operators have put these alternative breads in a position in which they can be a sandwich, a wrap, a stand-alone bread as well as a carrier for dips/spreads and pizza."
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