In today’s eat-on-the-go culture, sandwiches are leading the charge to satisfying customer demands, especially those that are ready to grab and go or order in advance via phone or other devices, said Eric Richard, education coordinator for the International Dairy Deli Bakery Association (IDDBA). Convenience stores, he noted, go hand in hand with sandwiches to meet those demands.
Richard reported that when it comes to ingredients and products found within sandwiches, consumers are placing a higher priority on health and wellness. That can mean anything from items free from GMOs (genetically modified organisms) to all-natural ingredients to chicken raised without antibiotics.
Freshness is another key attribute, making locally sourced meat, cheeses and breads (especially made-in-store varieties) particularly appealing, he pointed out.
“In consumers’ minds, locally sourced equals fresh and that resonates with consumers, especially younger ones,” Richard explained.
Inside the sandwich, plant-based proteins are securing their place on menus.
“Non-animal proteins used to mean a veggie sandwich, but now we’re seeing plant-based burgers, chicken, fish and deli products,” he said. “We’re getting to the point where sandwich programs will have to include plant-based protein options.”
Overall, Richard said, today’s consumers are much more adventurous than they were years ago, with millennials and Gen Z most diverse in their exposure to a wide variety of ingredients and flavor profiles. By posting photos and descriptions of their favorites on social media, they also create buzz around sandwiches and the retailers who sell them.
But the latest trends don’t necessarily drive sandwich sales in all markets. Sometimes familiar turkey or ham wedges are what consumers want and expect from their local convenience stores.
“We’ve tried a lot of different types of sandwiches, from made-to-order to trendy varieties like cranberry chicken salad and jalapeño bagels, but when we looked at the numbers, we found that our customers keep coming back for their traditional go-tos,” said Jon Fleck, merchandising manager for Cenex Zip Trip, the c-store brand of CHS Inc.
For its 36 stores in Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota and Wyoming, Zip Trip sells a variety of fresh and frozen grab-and-go sandwiches provided by its supplier, Core-Mark. The frozen sandwiches sell best by a large margin, Fleck said.
“There’s not a lot of difference in the retail prices of the fresh and frozen sandwiches,” he said, “so I think it is just the familiarity of the products that keep customers coming back for the ones they like best.”