Hero. Hoagie. Submarine. Club. Grinder. Bomber. No matter how you slice it, it’s still a sandwich — and it had better be good.
The NACS/Coca-Cola Retailing Research Council study “Embracing Modern Convenience” reported that consumers now have higher expectations when it comes to ingredients, freshness, health and overall quality of their meals. That includes sandwiches.
The key to a creative sandwich is the sauce component, said Ryan Krebs, director of food service for the 76-store Rutter’s chain based in York, Pa.
“So, by changing the sauce, you change the experience,” he said, “and I think people have gotten really savvy in different sauce profiles that they are beginning to use.”
Rutter’s has a proprietary sauce it calls “R” sauce. “It’s a smoky-bacon-style aioli or mayonnaise,” Krebs said. “So, we try and play in that aioli world a little bit, which plays well into sandwiches, wraps, burgers and all those.”
Rutter’s also features a Chesapeake aioli, as well as Asian flavor profiles such as sweet and sour, teriyaki and sweet chili sauce.
Cliff’s Local Market Director of Foodservice Operations Derek Thurston said that while his chain’s 20 central New York stores offer the expected sandwich staples, his people also like to shake things up.
“We’ll bring in LTOs (limited time offers). Over the summer I did a pork rib patty, which did pretty well for us. Did very well in some of my more rural market stores,” he said.
When it comes to specialty items, Cliff’s features a harvest chicken wrap or chipotle chicken crunch wrap, which includes unique ingredients like dried cranberries, sweet Vidalia onion dressing or Fritos.
Meanwhile, for Rutter’s, specialty items extends to jumping into the plant-based food market. Rutter’s recently introduced a plant-based burger from Dr. Praeger’s Purely Sensible Foods of Elmwood Park, N.J. “It hits all the key categories for that true flexitarian,” Krebs said.
He chose Dr. Praeger’s for what he called its cleaner label, and because it’s lower in cholesterol, saturated fat and sodium. Rutter’s also introduced to its breakfast lineup a plant-based ‘egg’ option, from JUST Egg.
Make it Fresh
According to “Embracing Modern Convenience,” one-fifth of those who shop c-stores fewer than once a month say it’s because they link them with lower quality and/or less healthy foods and beverages.
Krebs said there are two ways to convey quality. The first is the most direct — consumers simply tasting the quality. As an example, he pointed to Rutters’ proprietary pork belly that he called “outstanding.” The other way, he said, is through co-branding.
“And so, people are trusting certain brands more,” said Krebs. “And I think you’re starting to see that leveraged in different areas, whether it’s through the sauces of Ken’s or Sweet Baby Ray’s.”
The demand for high-quality ingredients extends even to the grab-and-go shelf.
“As long as it’s high-quality ingredients, if you’re watching yourself by tracking it, making sure that it’s a good product — you’ll sell that stuff,” said Thurston. “Obviously, you’re going to have waste, but waste is part of any good foodservice program. You can’t be afraid of waste. If you’re afraid of waste, you might as well not do the program.”
Cliff’s Local Markets goes a step further to assure quality, regularly monitoring its own performance. Thurston said customers should expect to get a good, consistent sandwich regardless of in which Cliff’s location customers make a purchase.
“We do a secret shop every single month to make sure that service is going well, the sandwiches are being made right,” Thurston said. “And we’ll have people take pictures of the sandwiches to make sure that they’re making them in the correct sequence with the correct formulas from store to store.”