Moving feast

02/09/2014 - 11:43
As snacking and food to go continues to grow, operators need to be on-trend with the demands of consumers looking for quick-to-eat options. Sheila Eggleston reports

Considering that the British Sandwich Association (BSA) estimates that 3.5 billion sandwiches were sold in the last year, worth a staggering £7.25bn, operators can be assured of good returns if they keep up with the trends to drive sales further.

With growing optimism about the economy, taking advantage of new product development, different packaging formats and specific eating occasions is key.

Dave Edwards, head of OOH sales for Mission Foodservice, says that handheld sandwiches and wraps are able to find a place on UK menus throughout the day, because out-of-home outlets are catering for consumers who need to fit meals into their busy lifestyles.

“Consumers are now less likely to stick to traditional dining occasions, constantly consuming on-the-go,” he explains. “Breakfast items, for example, are increasingly expanding across menus as consumers veer from the tradition of eating three-square-meals per day.”

Edwards believes that to increase customer satisfaction and maximise the potential of sandwiches and wraps, operators must cater for the ‘New Millennial’ consumers. These are aged between 13 and 33 and described as brand savvy and time deficient, and have an estimated spending power of £125bn.

He says this influential generation have busy lifestyles, which means that they are often looking for quick, convenient options that can be consumed on the go.

Edwards adds that consumers are also more interested in the quality of ingredients and where they come from, and that items such as sandwiches and wraps lend themselves to fast cooking styles that will reassure them that what they are eating is fresh and high quality.

“Outlets need to be aware that street vendors and street food-style outlets currently monopolise the handheld snack market,” he says. “In order to remain competitive, caterers need to make sure that what they are offering is authentic, good value for money and provides consumers with a convenient and entertaining way to eat.”

An example of change is TRADE, a recently opened café located on Commercial Street, in East London, which has brought in experts to ramp up its food offer.

Owners Alex Stone and Arthur Nowicki wanted to provide food to complement its delicious coffee and teamed with restaurateur Frank Boltman of French Franks and Thanks for Franks’ success who is well known for his ‘deli sandwich’ to oversee the menu. They describe the result as “a selection of trademark sandwiches which are worth travelling across London for”.

Made with bread supplied by local artisan bakers and filled with pastrami made from their own smokery, along with carefully sourced other deli meat, cheese and fish their seven-strong sandwich collection includes: the Reuben, house-smoked pastrami, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese and Trade-Secret sauce in rye; and three cheese and chilli jam – Fontina, Emmenthal and Comte Toastie in sourdough.

Many operators have also recognised the need to cater for dietary needs. Costa, for example, expanded its gluten-free range earlier this year with the launch of its first gluten-free savoury product. Its British chicken and basil salad wrap was designed for customers with gluten and lactose intolerances and is licensed by Coeliac UK to carry their symbol on packaging to highlight its gluten-free credentials.

According to the BSA, chicken is the favourite filling for consumers, accounting for 31% of sandwiches, mainly because it can be adapted in many ways for different consumer tastes.
Vera Malhotra, UK marketing manager at Plusfood UK, which produces Hot ‘n’ Kickin’ poppin’ chicken and goujons, and chicken strips in many global flavours, says that the main on-going trend within the sandwich marketplace, as witnessed by the success of brands like Subway, is the “made-to-order” style of service.

“Nothing can compare to the fresh taste of a wrap or sandwich made to order, where the customers can choose their own filling,” she says. “To be able to see the ingredients and the construction process of the wrap gives them a confidence in the quality of the product.

“Freshly made wraps can be a lot more adventurous than bought-in ones, and easily change to reflect the demands of your local market for new and different flavours. With a bit of imagination the Plusfood strips can be the feature ingredient in a range of up-to-date wraps.”

As an example, she suggests the Marrakesh chicken strips with North African flavours served in a flatbread, with a fresh mint salad and yogurt dressing, accompanied by couscous. She also recommends the Hot ‘n’ Kickin’ goujons and poppin’ chicken as ideal hot sandwich and wrap fillers.

Cheese is another popular ingredient for sarnies, with Lactalis saying that products such as its Lubborn Somerset brie and Seriously Strong cheddar, cold or melted, are perfect for sandwiches, baguettes and paninis. Galbani, another of its brands, combines Italian meat and cheese as fillers for handheld food.

 “In a competitive market, choice is everything,” says Galbani brand manager Sarah Lucking. “Consumer tastes have become increasingly sophisticated, with the market seeing a real appetite for new products and innovative flavour combinations that challenge the more traditional sandwich fillings found on menus everywhere.”

Chloé Féminier Tomkins, UK group product manager at Bel Foodservice, says that in addition to convenience, other factors also influence consumers such as brand awareness, current trends, a more health-conscious society and dietary requirements.

“When trying to define your sandwich and wrap offering, it is important to include hot and cold options,” she says. “Hot sandwiches are very popular as they can feel more like a main meal, and are brilliant for those who want an alternative to something that can feel too filling, such as a burger. Bel recommends using a cheese such as pre-sliced Leerdammer, which offers an easy and quick service, as well as it having great melting properties and 50% less fat than standard cheddar.

“Operators do, however, need to consider how offering hot sandwiches may affect service, especially for consumers who expect relatively fast service for a sandwich of any kind.

“Another issue to consider is how your offering will be displayed to the customer – is it possible to pre-prepare the hot sandwich and warm it up, or will it be necessary to invest in a heated display to keep the sandwiches in? Capitalising on time-saving solutions in such an environment is key, and pre-sliced options or spreadable cheese are an easy place to start.”

She adds that another key trend in the sandwich market is offering different flavours, especially within ingredients themselves. “Mintel research shows that 41% of cheese users would be interested in trying cheese with unusual flavours, demonstrating a growing desire for different tastes and flavours to satisfy an increasingly wide ranging and adventurous palate,” she says.

Bel’s latest launch is an ultra-spreadable Boursin garlic and herb cheese variant in a 500g tub.
Consumers’ preference for fish and seafood ingredients for sandwiches has always been good, says the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), with prawn and tuna being popular, and, with a strong customer interest in sustainable seafood from a traceable source, more caterers are choosing to put MSC-certified sustainable seafood on menus.

The MSC says that last year prawn and mayonnaise sandwiches came second to the BLT in the BSA’s survey of the UK’s favourite sandwiches, and it adds that a recent Nielsen global report has suggested that 55% of customers would pay extra for products or services from companies committed to positive social and environmental impacts.

Pan’Artisan says that sandwiches account for 50% of all bread consumed, which is good news for caterers as bread is a relatively low cost item, and speciality bread in particular present well as alternative carriers, making additional profits.

“Our research has shown ciabatta and focaccia appearing more frequently on menus as sandwich carriers, but at a premium price, as consumers become more adventurous with their choices,” says managing director Richard Jansen. “For operators, this means an opportunity to increase margin, and also offer a point of difference and wider choice for regular customers.

“We recently developed a range of speciality bread to demonstrate our capabilities to our customers and found that there is a demand for them. They included oat and linseed, sunflower, spelt, rye, cheese and onion, chilli and Sussex nutty. As a nation we may still favour white bread but there is a growing trend towards seeded, multigrain and oat-based breads in line with healthier eating and our desire for more variety.”

Country Choice recently rolled out the Sub 350, a generously filled sub roll that has less than 350 calories and comes in six variants. These are: simply sausage; Bombay vegetable – a vegetarian curry mix in a spicy tikka sauce; chicken fajita in a sauce of jalapeno chillis, double cream and fajita spices; chicken and chorizo in a spicy tomato sauce; beef and onion in rich beef gravy; and fiery cheese – a combination of potato and onion in a sauce of cheddar, mozzarella and red Leicester cheese with jalapeno chillies and Tabasco sauce.

The products are delivered frozen, ready to bake and serve in 15 to 20 minutes. The 140g subs are packed 30 to a case with a unit price of 83.3p and an RRP of £1.59. After baking they can be displayed for up to four hours in the hot cabinet, using packaging and stickers included in each case.

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