More consumers report purchasing sandwiches away from home today compared to just two years ago. According to market research firm Technomic, this increase is due in large part to operators' responses to consumer demands for lower prices, greater variety, fresher fare, flexible portions and healthier items.

While the restaurant industry as a whole lost 4,500 restaurants in 2011, the limited-service sandwich segment grew by 800 units, spurred by Subway, which netted 872 new franchised restaurants in the U.S.

Aside from Subway, other sandwich chains have been reimaging and growing to keep up with demands. Quiznos recently announced a major overhaul to its menu and marketing strategies. Cousins Subs is also updating its branding and restaurants as it celebrates its 40th anniversary. Even smaller chains, such as Jersey Mike's, Cheba Hut and Milio's have aggressive expansion plans in place.

The growing fast casual segment has been largely shaped by sub/sandwich chains as well, with players such as Jimmy John's, Firehouse Subs, Penn Station, Jason's Deli, Which Wich and more on an upward sales trend.

"Today's consumer expects greater customization and broader sandwich options," said Darren Tristano, Technomic EVP. "Trends in portion flexibility, variety, freshness and shareability have come to the forefront of this segment. Shareable options give operators a chance to go beyond the standard menu and try new ethnic sandwiches. Often these ethnic and next-level sandwiches, which focus on gourmet ingredients and toppings, are introduced through mini sandwiches or wraps. Giving consumers smaller, shareable portion options can be considered as healthier with less calories. This trend shows no signs of slowing down."

Technomic has developed the Sandwich Consumer Trend Report covering trends in this segment.

Some highlights include:

  • 41 percent of consumers ages 25-34 would like more restaurants to offer mini-sandwiches that can be eaten as a snack or light meal, up 15 percentage points since 2010.
  • Gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches continue to rise. This American sandwich staple is getting an update, as whole concepts are being built on the appeal of high-end, high-quality grilled cheese.
  • Specialty breads offer operators and suppliers a strong avenue for sandwich differentiation. Focaccia, ciabatta, and sourdough have seen modest increases on menus.
  • Gluten free flatbread, bun and wrap options are becoming increasingly prevalent.
  • More consumers are purchasing grab-and-go sandwiches, reflecting a greater shift toward increased convenience and prepared foods.

Technomic's Sandwich Consumer Trend Report examines consumer behavior, preferences and attitudes regarding sandwiches based on survey results from 1,500 consumers. For the report, Technomic asked consumers to include breakfast, deli, salad, and sub sandwiches, burgers, burritos, hot dogs, and wraps in their definition of a sandwich.

Read more about trends and statistics.

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