Sandwiches are big business for Scott Zaremba, owner of Zarco USA convenience stores in Lawrence, Kan. In fact, they’re so big that he just opened a second standalone shop for his popular proprietary Sandbar Subs concept.
Overall, sandwich sales are growing 8% every month for Zaremba at both the Zarco USA stores and standalone restaurants. He just added burgers (Cowabunga Burgers to go with the chain’s beach theme) to his menu mix of sandwiches, wraps, Beach Dogs, breakfast burritos and salads, and said they have taken off even more quickly than expected despite a great deal of competition in the area.
“One thing we do is proof and bake our own breads and buns on site,” he said. “We use our sweet dough for the burgers and that’s something memorable, something customers can’t get in most sandwich locations.”
Meats are also sliced on site, a process that seems to resonate well with area customers.
“As long as we stay unique and tied to our core beliefs that fresh is always better, we just expect to keep growing our sandwich sales in both our in-store and standalone locations,” Zaremba said.
Kelly Weikel, director of consumer insights for Chicago-based Technomic research company agreed that one of the deterrents c-stores have always faced is the consumer perception that the offering might not be fresh and high quality.
“Compared even to 2012, today’s consumer places higher importance on the quality of the bread, cheese, meats and condiments for sandwiches,” she said. “Many indicate that they would pay more for sandwiches with higher quality ingredients or brand-name ingredients. Promoting the use of brand name, (and) artisan, natural or local ingredients in marketing messages are ways that retailers can help boost the quality perception of sandwiches.”
She noted that three in 10 (31%) consumers surveyed and 36% of women say they enjoy specialty breads on their sandwiches. Consumers also said they would like to see more premium filling offerings.
Technomic reported that healthier sandwiches and sides may also boost sales. A little more than half of the consumers in a survey said they prioritize health for sandwiches at both lunch and dinner. Researchers concluded that promoting better-for-you attributes, such as fresh, artisan or homemade, “may help to boost health perceptions, appeal to a broader base of customers and minimize the veto vote.”
Weikel suggested that offering mini versions might help to sell more sandwiches both at traditional mealtimes and as snacks throughout the day. Thirty-five percent of respondents—up from 26% in 2010—said they would like to see restaurants offer more mini-sandwiches.
In addition to being sold alone, minis can be the basis of bundles with a salad, soup or side item, resulting in more incremental sales. Sixty-three percent of consumers indicated that they had an interest in c-store lunch combos and 31% of people polled said lunch combos could spur them to increase their c-store lunch visits.
“Consumers are also more likely to try something new if they can try a mini version of it first,” Weikel said.