Sandwich bar sector trends

(last updated July 2019)

The sandwich industry has seen strong growth in recent years and is continuing to grow, although very much faster in London than in the rest of the country. There has been a huge increase in demand for sandwiches and other snack foods as people's lives have become busier and convenience more important. Pre-packed sandwiches in particular have benefited from the trend for snacking and eating on the move and now hold the largest share of the take-away and fast food market. People have kept buying sandwiches despite an economic downturn, with innovative sandwich shops selling budget priced options and special 'meal deals'. Customers in London pay about £3.50 for a sandwich, while outside the capital the average is just under £3.00.

A number of other developments have affected the sandwich retailing sector in recent years, including:

  • a big increase in competition as many non-specialist outlets have introduced sandwiches and food-to-go items
  • the growth of big sandwich bar chains and franchises like Subway
  • the rise of 'cafe culture' and the rapid growth of the coffee shop sector - particularly big chains like Costa and Starbucks - another source of competition for the sandwich bar
  • an improvement in the range of different breads and sandwich fillings available as consumers have become more adventurous. Many sandwich bars have also widened their ranges to include sandwich alternatives and other food and drink products
  • greater consumer awareness about nutrition and healthy eating - customers are increasingly looking for balanced choices with sandwiches containing under 400 calories
  • concerns about the origin of foods and the environmental impact of carbon emissions caused by 'food miles'. This has increased demand for locally sourced and organic food and ingredients
  • a general increase in food costs and growing uncertainty in the foodservice sector over ingredients costs and availability following the Brexit vote in 2016
  • a rise in the number of people eating breakfast outside the home
  • the emergence and growth of consumer feedback and review websites, particularly Tripadvisor - a poor Tripadvisor rating can have a devastating impact on catering and hospitality businesses

The late 2000s saw a sharp downturn in the economy. Conditions remained very difficult into the early 2010s. Although most sandwiches aren't luxury items, many people looked to save money by trading down to less expensive options, looking around for good deals and sometimes making their own lunchtime sandwiches. The sandwich industry was forced to fight back by offering excellent value for money and 'no-nonsense' everyday pricing. Things began to improve in 2013 with 2014 seeing a further improvement.

The economy continued to improve into 2015 as wages increased and people felt more secure in their jobs. This led to an increase in spending on eating out and fewer people making sandwiches at home for their lunch. Following the Brexit vote in June 2016, consumer confidence in the economy fell and the economy performed poorly for the rest of the year, throughout 2017 and into 2018 as household budgets came under strain due to inflation and limited real growth in wages putting pressure on consumers' disposable income. Consumers have tightened their belts and, although the 'food-to-go' spend has held up well, it's likely that total sector turnover will not grow by very much in the immediate future. The market is very competitive and your customers will expect fast service, excellent quality and good value.

How sector trends affect your plans

Although the overall market for sandwiches has grown strongly in recent years, the economic outlook following the Brexit vote is uncertain. You will have to decide whether:

  • demand will be high enough in your area to support your proposed business. If you plan to locate in a rural area, there simply may not be enough customers, unless you are aiming at a seasonal, tourist market
  • your local economy is healthy - if your area has been unlucky enough to suffer from many business failures and factory closures recently, it is unlikely that local people will be able to afford to buy sandwiches on a regular basis
  • there is room for another take-away food outlet locally

Food hygiene and healthy eating

The Food Standards Agency has been working with the catering and hospitality sectors to improve hygiene standards and encourage caterers to introduce healthier menu options with less salt and fat. Guidelines and targets for fat and salt reduction present some opportunities for sandwich bars to offer healthier products, but also some challenges. It can be more difficult to make a tasty sandwich with less salt and fat, so you may need to get creative when you develop your fillings.

The Food Standards Agency has also worked with local authorities to introduce the Food Hygiene Rating Scheme - the so called 'scores on the doors' scheme. Food businesses are given a star rating when their premises are inspected ranging from 0 to 5. Businesses in Wales and Northern Ireland are legally required to display stickers showing the results of their inspections at or near each entrance to the premises used by customers. The stickers must be in a conspicuous place where they can be easily read by customers before they enter. People can also search for ratings online. The legal requirement to display the results of food hygiene inspections is set to come into force in England by 2020 at the earliest and it is expected that Scotland will then follow suit.

You can find out more about the rating scheme on the Food Standards Agency website.

Keeping up to date with the sandwich sector

Joining a trade association is an excellent way of staying up to date with developments in your sector.

The British Sandwich Association (BSA) represents the interests of the UK sandwich industry and publishes International Sandwich and Food to Go News magazine which contains articles and advertising features of interest to all those operating in this market. You can find out more about the BSA and the work they do to support the sandwich industry on their website.

The weekly journal Caterer and Hotel Keeper includes a wealth of articles and features of interest to businesses in the food service industry. You can find out more on their website.

Trade shows

You can get a lot of useful information if you go to a trade show or exhibition for the catering industry. You'll be able to make contacts, meet manufacturers and suppliers and plan your future stock buying. The Exhibitions website contains details of forthcoming trade shows that may be of interest to you. Caffe Culture is one of the leading trade events for the cafe sector.

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