CHICAGO — A recent study by Technomic found consumers want more variety in sandwich offerings.

The study found that roughly half of respondents (52%) were satisfied with the variety of sandwiches available at sub shops and delis, while 42% were satisfied with the sandwich offerings at full-service restaurants. Among age groups, 44% of 18 year-olds and 40% of 24-year-olds were least satisfied, according to the study.

Although sandwiches at limited-service restaurants and full-service restaurants cost more in 2010 compared to two years ago, sandwiches remain the leading menu choice among consumers in both settings, according to Technomic. The menu category continues to outpace others despite a slight decline since 2008 in the total number of sandwich entrees available.

Among consumers surveyed, 93% said they eat at least one sandwich a week, and 59% said they eat at least three sandwiches a week, according to Technomic.

The study also revealed that more than four out of five consumers indicated the quality of meat (86%), freshness of ingredients (84%) and quality of bread (81%) have the most impact in making a good sandwich. Further, artisanal bread is becoming more common in full-service restaurants and limited-service restaurants and figure highly in consumers’ choices for breakfast sandwiches.

"Four types of bread — bagels, croissants, English muffins and biscuits — are highly appealing to most consumers for breakfast sandwiches,” according to the study. “Scrambled eggs are consumers’ leading choice for breakfast sandwiches by far, with 73% saying they would order this ingredient on their breakfast sandwich.”

For meats, chicken was the leading protein used in many sandwiches.

“Chicken’s adaptability to wide-ranging preparations and flavor applications helps make the protein a highly preferable choice as the foundation for sandwiches,” according to Technomic.

Ham and roast beef also are among the prevalent proteins used on sandwiches. Cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, onions and pickles are the most common menu offerings to round out sandwich preparation, according to the study.

Why are consumers choosing sandwiches instead of other menu items? Roughly 55% of respondents said they prefer sandwiches because they are relatively inexpensive compared to other foods. Forty-four per cent cited portability as the reason for their choice, while about a third of respondents said they preferred sandwiches because they may be prepared quickly and are easy to make at home and bring to eat later.

The study also found that 77% of consumers surveyed feel that customization and quantity of ingredients (75%) are crucial factors to creating a good sandwich.

“Due to the high versatility and saturation of the sandwich market, it is important for operators to stay abreast of current trends and evolving consumer needs,” said Darren Tristano, executive vice-president at Technomic. “To improve in the area of variety, operators and suppliers may want to consider offering a wider range of sandwich ingredients developing signature sandwich offerings and allowing guests to customize their sandwiches.”

Some trends to watch include:

• Promoting value with sandwiches — price promotions are an effective way to drive customer traffic and repeat visits;
• Mobile food trucks can offer flavorful, high-quality sandwiches as well as a service format that connects to consumers’ ideas about lifestyle and value;
• Grilled or oven-baked sandwich selections may set a signature sandwich offering apart;
• High-quality fast-casual breakfast sandwiches that use freshly-baked bread, flavorful proteins and healthful ingredients;
• Ethnic sandwiches and global flavors inspired by interest in Asian and Latin flavor profiles;
• Artisan preparations that use gourmet cheeses and breads prepared on site; and Portion choices — sandwiches in varying portions give consumers the option to control prices, portion sizes and nutritional values.