CHICAGO – Consumers are eating sandwiches more often and picking up more sandwiches away from home than they did two years ago, according to “The Sandwich Consumer Trend Report,” published in mid-May by market research firm Technomic.

The data, based on Technomic’s MenuMonitor database, found 43 percent of consumers said they eat at least four sandwiches each week, up from 39 percent of consumers in 2010. Additionally, consumers noted 49 percent of the sandwiches they ate were purchased at restaurants or other food service locations, up from 44 percent in 2010.

Technomic said the improvement in the economy has played a role in the increase, but so has the continued growth of breakfast sandwiches in the limited-service restaurant (LSR) segment. Over the past two years, the MenuMonitor data showed sandwich entrees have increased 35 percent on breakfast menus at the top 500 LSRs, and more chains (60) offered breakfast sandwiches in 2011 than in 2009 (53).

“The significant increase in breakfast sandwich offerings points to how LSR operators are promoting convenience and affordability attributes to target morning consumers,” Technomic said.

Tortillas still top chart

Tortillas were identified as the leading type of sandwich bread on LSR menus, according to the report. Meanwhile, buns, ciabatta and sourdough bread “have made a slight push” on LSR menus since 2009, the study showed.

Similar trends were noted at full-service restaurants, where tortillas appeared on 8.4 percent of sandwich menu descriptions in 2011, up from 5.1 percent in 2009. Both tortillas and buns have passed sourdough as the leading types of sandwich bread on FSR menus since 2009, the report said.

Bagels, croissants popular in a.m.

Looking at sandwich preferences for all dayparts, bagels and croissants stood out as the top choices for breakfast sandwiches, with 45 percent of those surveyed saying they likely would order a croissant and 44 percent saying they likely would order a bagel. Thirty-six per cent said they were likely to order biscuits or English muffins, while 33 percent said whole wheat/whole grain bread would be their choice. Twenty-four per cent said they most likely would order a tortilla/wrap for breakfast.

Italian, French and whole wheat bread were the most preferred varieties for sandwiches eaten at lunch and dinner.

“Each of these breads is versatile and can be used for a wide range of sandwich varieties,” Technomic said. “Some differences in bread preferences were observed by daypart. Flatbread and tortilla are more likely to be ordered at dinner than at lunch, likely due to the larger wraps offered at full-service restaurants.”

Snack opportunities

More than half of consumers surveyed by Technomic said they eat sandwiches for lunch once a week or more often, while about 40 percent said they eat sandwiches for dinner at least once a week, and more than a third do so for breakfast.

But an untapped market may be marketing sandwiches as snacks, Technomic said.

“A quarter of consumers surveyed say they never eat sandwiches as a snack,” the report noted. “Offering smaller-portion sandwiches at lower price points that can be eaten on the go — such as wraps or mini-sandwiches — may help to boost sales of sandwiches as a snack.”