Report: Sandwich Culinary Trends Driven By Flavor Adventure, Healthier Ingredients

Aug. 7, 2015

ROCKVILLE, Md., Aug. 6, 2015 /PRNewswire/ -- Few foods reign as ubiquitously on restaurant menus in the U.S. as the almighty sandwich. Sure Americans love their pizza and hamburgers. And the hot dog often gets the glory as the most iconic all-American food. Yet it's the sandwich that has restaurateurs, food retailers, and culinary masterminds nationwide most excited, according to the all-new Packaged Facts report, Sandwiches: Culinary Trend Tracking Series.

The sandwich already reigns supreme on restaurant menus across restaurant sectors. On the high side, some 74% of quick-service restaurants featuring sandwiches on the menu. Even on the relatively low side, 62% of fine dining restaurant feature sandwiches. In each case, sandwiches are more prevalently featured than portable, sandwich-like competition, such as burgers, hot dogs, and pizza.

Just as importantly, away-from-home options for grabbing a sandwich extend beyond restaurants, cafes, and fast food and into the retail sector: Some 16% of respondents to Packaged Facts' survey indicate that they had gotten a sandwich at a supermarket or convenience store within the last week, illustrating the broadening reach of made-to-order deli and other foodservice options within food retailing channels.

Beyond the alluring variety of sandwich types around which a menu can be built, foodservice operators are seeking to capitalize on the sandwich's customizable versatility as a vehicle for all manner of novel ingredients. This includes sandwiches featuring authentic multicultural ingredients, underutilized or even novel bread and protein options, and unique flavor combinations that marry the savory and the sweet.

"Leveraging progressive food sourcing and food preparation practices, restaurants and food manufacturers are increasingly focused on providing sandwiches that are fresh, naturally produced, locally sourced, and either culturally authentic or genuinely creative in culinary concept," says David Sprinkle, research director, Packaged Facts. "This focus dovetails with two of the most important consumer drivers in the sandwich market, the demand for flavor adventure and authenticity."

Sandwiches: Culinary Trend Tracking Series profiles eight sandwich types that are gaining in importance on restaurant menus and in prepared foods/deli retailing.  International and regional influences are notably evident, as is the desire for bolder flavors and healthier alternatives. They include:

  • Garden Tartines. From a French word that means "slice of bread," the tartine can be made with all manner of ingredients (from a rich topping of foie gras or smoked salmon to a few slices of ham with butter), a new trend emerges when the garden is piled onto the bread to create a produce-based (often vegetarian, and potentially vegan) still life of a sandwich.
  • Tortas and Cemitas. Mexico's beloved tortas and cemitas are trending thanks to interest in international sandwiches and street foods and to the development of the quality and experience-oriented fast casual restaurant segment.
  • Croque Monsieur and Madame. With an interest in culturally authentic international cuisine revolutionizing diners' choices, the croque-monsieur or madame provide a fresh take on familiar ingredients—and there is no shortage of options for variations.
  • Brisket Sandwich.  Brisket is trending as comfort food continues its culinary ascent.  Brisket both on and off of sandwiches is one of the hottest regional American trends, even in NYC and on non-BBQ menus, and everyone from fast casual restaurants to high-end chefs can appeal to a new generation of consumers by featuring brisket with classic spirit or distinctive twists.
  • Cuban Sandwich. The Cuban Sandwich, or Cubano, layers ham, roast pork, Swiss cheese, pickles (and sometimes salami,Tampa style) on lard-based Cuban bread, and then is pressed like a panini into gooey, crusty goodness.  The Cuban is enjoying a renaissance across the U.S. as chefs explore a variety of ingredient combinations, or simply upgrade classic recipes.
  • Sweet & Savory Sandwiches. Use of jam in hot or cold sandwiches has increased to 11% of restaurants serving sandwiches in 2014, with usage in hot sandwiches nearly doubling over that period.   Looking for new ways to satisfy a sweet tooth, consumers are open to sophisticated sweet & savory sandwich offerings.
  • Protein-based Salad Sandwiches. Like most classic sandwiches, the protein-based salad sandwich has been transformed in recent years by upgrades to fillings, condiments, sauces, breads, and accompaniments.
  • Breakfast Sandwiches. Terms like natural, local, seasonal, and sustainable are increasingly catching consumers' eyes on menus and packaging, yet are four times more likely to appear on non-breakfast items, leaving plenty of opportunity for catch-up in the breakfast sandwich space.