More Americans Dining Out on Sandwiches Boosts Category Growth

Fierce Competition Has McDonald's, Panera Working to Gain Ground

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Almost half of sandwiches consumed last year were bought at restaurants rather than made at home, according to data released by Technomic. Players like Subway have long capitalized on the trend, while others such as Jimmy John's, McAlister's Deli, Jason's Deli, Firehouse Subs, Jersey Mike's and even McDonald's and Panera are working to gain ground in a category that Technomic values at $27.7 billion.

That's a lot of bread.

According to the consultant's 2012 Sandwich Consumer Trend Report, sales in the sandwich category are up 4.8% since 2010. Yet sandwich consumption overall hasn't been gaining huge ground.

"Sandwiches themselves are not a growing category, they're a shifting category," said Harry Balzer, VP at NPD. Nearly half -- 49% -- of sandwiches consumed in 2012 were purchased at restaurants or other food-service locations, up from 44% in 2010, according to Technomic.

Millennials are propelling the category's growth as they seek fast, fresh and convenient meal options.

"Subway was just another chain until it started marketing [its food] as healthy," said Joel Cohen, a restaurant-marketing consultant. Subway's U.S. systemwide sales were up 6.1% to $12.1 billion in 2012, according to Technomic, while unit count was up 3.3% to 25,549. Subway's agency is MMB, Boston.

McDonald's is tapping into the trend with McWrap, its biggest product rollout this year, since tortillas are the leading variety of "sandwich bread" in the limited-service category (which encompasses fast-food and fast-casual restaurants). Customization is by far more important to consumers than any other factor when it comes to sandwiches, according to Technomic.

Quiznos is not faring as well, posting U.S. sales of $838 million in 2012, down from $921.6 million in 2011, according to Technomic. It regrouped in mid-April and launched a campaign, by Barkley, that delivers a quality message. "Quiznos is focusing on what differentiates us—our unique recipes and quality ingredients," said Susan Lintonsmith, Quiznos' CMO.

One fast-growing sandwich chain is Jacksonville, Fla.-based Firehouse Subs, with 560 locations in 36 states. Its sales were up 33.5%, to $380 million, according to Technomic, while unit count jumped 19.3%. Doug Reifschneider, VP-marketing, said quality messaging and positioning have helped. Its shop is Zimmerman Agency.

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