Fast Casual Sandwiches: Trends
Trends in the fast casual sandwich market include: Increases in franchises and competition within the space, increases in delivery options for consumers, increases in creative menu options and specialty bread choices, and increases in plant-based offerings. Drivers of these trends include consumer demand for healthier and more creative options.
Increases in Franchises & Competition
- From 2014 to 2019, the Sandwich and Sub Store Franchise Industry has shown consistent growth, showing gains in revenue across the board. Franchises maintain their popularity by “developing new menu options that capitalize on increasing awareness of the health risks associated with a high-fat diet.” Experts expect the market to see continued growth in the coming half-decade.
- Currently, Subway and Jimmy John’s have the highest market shares within the Sandwich and Sub Store Franchise Industry. Notably, however, Subway has been struggling since sales began declining in 2014, and closed more than 1000 nationwide locations in 2018. Jimmy John’s franchises, despite recent setbacks related to their now-removed founder, have continued to grow, opening 148 new franchises in 2018 and planning to open 737 in 2019.
- With 61% of American consumers reporting they eat a sandwich at least once a week, and 37% of them reporting they eat more than one sandwich a week, the fast casual sandwich market is going strong. However, that also means that more restaurants are adding sandwiches to their menus and more competitors are popping up every day. Currently, nearly 66% of restaurants in the US have sandwiches on their menus.
Increases in Delivery Options
- To stay current with restaurant industry trends, fast casual sandwich shops are partnering with third-party delivery companies, like GrubHub and UberEats.
- Public hotspots for delivery are another option appearing more often on the horizon. They are less expensive than traditional delivery, but can be shared with other restaurant partners (to cut costs for set-up), and can provide restaurants with their own customer data.
Increases in Creative Menu Options
- With the rises in competition, sandwich shops have to fine new and innovative ways to compete and stand above the crowd. What this means is that “more operators are branching out to include unique and innovative sandwiches on their menus.” In fact, 50% of 18 to 34-year-old consumers want their sandwiches to come with “new or unique flavors and ingredients.”
- One popular innovation in this market (and in competing fast casual non-sandwich shops) includes expanding breakfast-based sandwiches into all-day foods, like adding chicken-with-waffles sandwiches to the dinner menu. For breakfast foods, flavor and ingredients trends include “cucumber, thyme, sage, oregano, smoked gouda, guacamole, manchego, Cajun, chili, and mango.”
- Another popular innovation is offering delicacy-style sandwiches with exotic toppings like chorizo sausage and avocado. For lunch or dinner-based sandwiches, food trends to watch include “citrus, poblano and gruyere … curry, muenster, truffles, cherry, Hawaiian flavors, ricotta, [and] maple and lemongrass.”
- Experts report that more than third (34%) of Americans prefer to “add sides as toppings to their sandwiches,” so these options are appearing more on menus.
- Other experts note that, despite American’s desire for creative, healthy, or exotic sandwiches, standards like “grilled cheeses and PB&J’s will continue to be popular.” They point out, however, that restaurants that “can differentiate their versions will stand out from the crowd.”
Increases in Bread Options
- A wider variety of bread choices are also appearing on menus country-wide to appeal to a wider selection of consumer palettes, including more exotic choices like Naan bread, dosas (pancake wrap), and roti (like pita bread), as well as simpler choices like pretzel bread.
- Asian breads, like bao buns, “have seen an increase on menus” in US restaurants (and sandwich shops) because they “pair well with savory fillings” and quench consumer desires for “adventurous and tasty” food options.
Increases in Plant-Based Offerings
- Experts say that more plant-based offerings have been appearing on menus recently (and will continue to do so in the coming years). Drivers of this include health reasons and also “to bring more variety and texture” to foods.
- Healthier plant-based options “such as cauliflower and jackfruit” have been trending, since they are “packed with vitamins and minerals but still taste great.”
- Variations of root vegetables, like yucca fries, are popular examples of increasingly popular foods. Brightly-colored vegetables, like “carrots, beetroots, and sweet potatoes” are also becoming increasingly popular, not only to “add flavor but also visual appeal.”
- Potato-based fries are also returning to popular status, though they’re being kicked-up a notch with myriad variations, like adding bacon or exotic cheeses.
- More restaurants are adding different types of vegetable-based meat substitutes to their menus, as well, to appeal to vegetarians, vegans, and those who are cutting down on meat products.
To identify current trends in the Fast Casual Sandwich Market, we looked for what experts in the industry believe to be the most-current changes happening in the market. From the collection we found, both from this particular segment of the overall market, as well as the overall market itself (Fast Casual Restaurants), we synthesized the trends into those identified and described here.