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Sandwiches: A Slice of Creativity – US Food Trends

04 October 2007
Sandwiches: A Slice of Creativity – US Food Trends

Sandwiches are only the starting point for consumer-favorite deli meats.

This article first appeared in the 15 September 2007 issue of Restaurants & Institutions (R&I).

R&I is the USA's leading source of food and business-trend information and exclusive research on operators and restaurant patrons. Editorial coverage spans the entire foodservice industry, including chains, independent restaurants, hotels and institutions. To find out more about R&I, visit its website here >>

By Lisa Bertagnoli, Special to R&I

To make its Garbage Salad, Chicago's Erie Cafe piles Genoa salami, mozzarella cheese, celery, onions, radish, pimientos and large steamed shrimp atop iceberg lettuce, and then ladles on garlicky Italian dressing. "You could put it on a piece of bread and eat it," E.J. Lenzi, general manager at the 250-seat, casual-upscale restaurant, says of the salad. It's a good seller, with a menu price of $19.50 at dinner and $14.50 at lunch.

Customers gravitate to deli meats because they're familiar. "Everybody grew up eating sandwiches at lunchtime," says Vito Buscemi, culinary manager for Vito's Market, a concept owned by Buffalo, N.Y.-based Delaware North Cos. In addition to a street-level restaurant in Buffalo, Delaware North operates 15 grab-and-go airport locations of the brand. About 75% of the 150 menu items at the Buffalo location include deli meats, Buscemi says. Deli meats are featured in panini ($6.95) as well as a chef's salad with julienne turkey and ham ($6.70).

Items featuring roasted and smoked turkey are most popular because of the "unique" flavor profile, Buscemi says. Indeed, customers prefer turkey to ham two-to-one. "I'm pretty sure health reasons have to do with it, but I'm not sure why," he says.

Operators like menuing deli meats for a variety of reasons. They sell well because they're familiar to customers: cold comfort food, in a sense. They're easy to source and easy to prepare-just slice (with a properly sharpened slicer that employees have been trained to operate) and serve. And, according to Buscemi, they're predictable.

"You get the same consistency if you pick a good-quality product," Buscemi says. He doesn't order presliced meats, preferring instead to slice them as needed in the kitchen. The higher labor cost is offset by lower food costs because a small portion (2 to 3 ounces) of deli meat packs a flavor punch. Vito's chef's salad, for instance, includes 2 ounces each of turkey and ham. Similarly, the dinner portion of Erie Cafe's Garbage Salad weighs 2 pounds but includes only 3 ounces of salami.

Leveraging Brand Familiarity

Some operators find that customers respond well to promoting retail-brand deli meats. Tropical Smoothie Café, a Destin, Fla.-based fast-casual chain with 245 locations, is one example. The chain touts the brand name of its deli-meat supplier on in-store marketing materials and on menus, both takeout and dine-in.

The brand, one also found in supermarkets, "speaks to 'feel better eat better,'" the chain's tagline, says Barbara Valentino, director of marketing and communications. "Consumers have hung their hat on it," Valentino says of the brand name.

Tropical Smoothie's nonsandwich deli creations include a chef's salad with ham and turkey ($6.99) and a Totally Turkey wrap ($6.49, comes with a bag of chips or a banana). Both are good sellers, according to Valentino.

Turkey, she says, is a particularly attractive deli meat because its mild flavor makes it amenable to addition of vegetables or sauces. A jerk-seasoned turkey wrap currently is testing and is scheduled for a January limited-time offer. It will be bundled with a mojito-flavored smoothie.

Tropical Smoothie Café chefs are working with the deli-meats company to develop more nonsandwich items. That's partly because the salad and the wrap sell well and partly because Tropical Smoothie Café's current menu relies heavily on chicken strips. Reducing reliance on chicken is a food-cost decision due to the rising price of corn, and thus chicken, Valentino says. "We want to make sure we're conscious of profitability for franchisees," she says.

Austin, Texas-based Schlotzsky's has extended deli meats to uses beyond sandwiches-most notably, to pizzas. A pizza topped with shaved smoked turkey ($4.59 for an 8-inch, single-serving pie) is popular, as are pies topped with cotto and Genoa salami. Offering such items with deli meats helps get past veto votes from guests seeking something other than a sandwich, says Jim Villemaire, director of research and development for the 365-unit chain.

More deli-meat items are testing, Villemaire says. The new creations make full use of deli meats' salty flavors and soft texture, which are qualities that match well with crunchy or crisp ingredients, such as vegetables or crusts. Plus, "there's always going to be the inherent flavors of those proteins," he says.

Deli Meat and Greet

Deli meats make appearances across menus. A sampling of current offerings:

  • Napa Valley Salad of field greens and mesclun mix, julienned smoked turkey, red onions, bacon, mushrooms, pecans and tomatoes, topped with sun-dried cranberries and Gorgonzola crumbles and pinot noir-shallot vinaigrette
    $7.19, Bear Rock Cafe, multiple locations
  • Monte Cristo with Italian dry-cured ham, aged Gruyère, raspberry-cognac jam and Dijon mustard
    $8.50, Brix Restaurant, Coeur d'Alene, Idaho
  • Spicy Cafe Italiano flatbread with capicolla, salami, pepperoni, tomatoes, red onions and marinara
    $7.39, Café Carolina and Bakery, multiple locations
  • Hawaiian Flat Baked Pita with pineapple, sliced ham and mozzarella
    $5.49, Extreme Pita, multiple locations
  • Harvest Wrap with turkey, gingered yams, wild rice, dried cranberries, almonds and cream sauce in a honey-wheat tortilla
    $9.50, Good Earth Restaurant and Bakery, Edina, Minn.
  • Cuban Sandwich with sliced roast pork, ham, Swiss cheese and spicy lime mayonnaise
    $8.95, Naked Fish, multiple locations
  • White pizza with fontina and mozzarella cheese, prosciutto di Parma, fresh arugula and tomatoes
    $16.50, Naples 45, New York City
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