If there’s a time on the horizon where sandwiches are not a vital part of most menus, it’s not visible at the moment.
According to Technomic, 61 percent of consumers eat sandwiches at least once a week, either at home or away from home, and 66 percent of consumers over the age of 35 purchase sandwiches from QSRs at least once every 90 days.
Furthermore, Technomic’s MenuMonitor — which tracks on-trend flavors, brands and ingredients — says that two-thirds of all restaurants (65.6 percent) have sandwiches on their menus.
Simply, sandwiches are not going anywhere any time soon.
But the way consumers view sandwiches seems to be changing.
“There are some things we’ve noticed up front and one of them is that turkey sandwiches always lead the way,” says John Friend, vice president of Farm to Market Bread Co. in Kansas City, Mo. “But people are looking for more than just your plain turkey sandwich from the past.”
Instead, consumers are looking for a cleaner turkey sandwich with a local flavor. And that trend is prevalent across the entire sandwich realm.
“Customers are looking for healthier sandwiches with cleaner labels,” says Andy Sigrist, senior product manager for British Columbia, Canada-based Unifiller Systems. “Sandwiches are evolving from a basic product to the forefront in culinary products with more flavors, ingredients and unique offerings. The trend towards artisan products has added a segment in the sandwich market beyond the standard, manufactured sandwiches.”
Farm to Market has supplied supermarkets and foodservice outlets with fresh bread since 1993. While that bread has been used to make countless sandwiches over the past 25 years, Farm to Market just recently dove head-first into the sandwich game.
The company opened the Farm to Market Sandwich Co. in Kansas City in late 2018, seeing a way to both use their knowledge gained from years in the industry and create another connection with consumers.
“For our brand, we always thought it would be good to have a retail front,” Friend says. “And now, what we’re trying to do is continue our brand of all-natural, fresh products through the sandwiches.”
When it comes to that turkey sandwich Friend was speaking of, Farm to Market classes it up by using a high-quality processed turkey from a local butcher. Farm to Market then smokes the meat in-house and slices it. They use an avocado spread, lettuce and seasonal smoked tomatoes and put it on their San Francisco Sourdough bread, which is the company’s most popular sliced bread.
“Some people first see it and think we’re just using a regular deli meat,” Friend says. “But it’s a clean, fresh, processed turkey. We get what we need every week from that butcher. Clean label is obviously huge. Limited ingredients, which is what we’ve been doing since the beginning. It’s one of the reasons Farm to Market was started, to make bread with just the ingredients you need for fresh bread.”
So how do these cleaner food trends impact sandwich production?
In a word: flexibility.
“Food production facilities have to adapt to more flexible production systems that allow for a wider range of sandwiches to be produced in terms of the types and variety of ingredients, sandwich assembly, product shapes and packaging,” Sigrist says.
Unifiller offers modular, flexible depositing solutions and custom production conveyor systems that are suited for the production of sandwiches, he says. These lines include the ability to accurately portion and spread thin layers of smooth condiments as well as typical chunk sandwich salads with a high degree of particulates like eggs, chicken, potato, fish and other seafood.
“Unifiller Systems equipment is extremely flexible. Setup and changeovers are quick,” Sigrist says. “This allows for a modular approach that uses a unique combination of automation along with minimal manual interaction to achieve a hand-made, and in many cases artisan, appearance of sandwiches that are of higher quality, unique appearance and are perceived as value-added.”
And when it comes to cleaner labels on wet salad sandwiches, Sigrist says they require the need for automation that is able to portion chunkier salads with more integrity as well as a wider selection of products.
The ability to portion, deposit, spread, print and inject very accurately is key, Sigrist says. Unifiller’s depositors feature a patented SV valve technology and are able to deposit sandwich salads with more integrity resulting in less damage of fragile particulates.
Sigirst also points out Unifiller’s new product line of foodservice depositors, which are built specifically for the food environment with improvements in the design for food safety, sanitation and reliability to operate in cold environments typically found in plants that product sandwiches.”
All about the bread
Simply starting with a clean (or cleaner) label bread can go a long way in making a sandwich more attractive to today’s consumers, but that’s not always the most efficient task for retailers.
“Some of the grocery stores have been a little slow to make the change. They’re looking for efficiency,” Friend says. “They’re struggling with managing the inventory. When you’re dealing with an all-natural product, it will mold fast. And it changes throughout the year. During the winter the bread may take five to seven days to mold, and then in the summer it’s molding in three to four days.”
Farm to Market provides St. Louis-area retailer Schnucks with fresh bread for its sandwiches. Farm to Market bakes the bread in the morning, ships it to Schnucks the next day and Schnucks then freezes the bread and distributes it to its stores for sandwich use.
“They wanted a custom, unique item for the prepared sandwiches they had,” Friend says. “It’s been great for us. They’re using it the same day they thaw it. They have a one to two-day shelf life on those sandwiches and they’re making them fresh in the mornings and have them available same-day in the stores.”
Farm to Market also provides fresh dough for certain Hen House locations in the Kansas City area. Raw dough is shipped to the store where it is baked fresh that day for use in sandwiches and other applications.
“There was a time wen they tried to switch to something else and the customers noticed right away and asked for their bread back,” Friend says. “It just shows how a fresh, all-natural bread can make such a big difference.”