Sandwiches are getting special attention in supermarket delis this summer.
Retailers are creating new combinations with catchy names, adding health-oriented selections, and setting out more choices in self-service cases. For many, the move is part of a strategy to grab business away from the likes of the highly successful Subway sandwich chain.
To handle expanded programs, deli executives are reorganizing preparation procedures. To get the word out, they're adding new signs and launching new promotion campaigns, including one with a Great
Dane to trumpet Danish ham sandwiches.
"People are thinking about sandwiches because they're healthier than fried food," said Terry Walsh, marketing director for the Miami division of Jacksonville, Fla.-based Winn-Dixie Stores.
Winn-Dixie, like other retailers, is calling more attention to its sandwiches, Walsh said. Blurbs in the division's circular ads tout fresh-made sandwiches at least once a month. Particular attention is being paid to getting those blurbs in on a regular basis, Walsh said, because the division wants to build its sandwich business. He said he sees good potential for sandwich business in the evening as well as at lunchtime. One deli executive said that while her company has offered fresh-made sandwiches for years, she estimated that 80% of customers didn't know it until recently when the chain posted sandwich menu boards. Out of 13 retailers SN interviewed, all said they see big growth potential in the sandwich category. While some have done a good volume of sandwich sales before now, most expressed enthusiasm about the category's potential.
"It's self-propelling. Once people taste our heroes, they like them; they tell their friends about the hero they had from A&P," said William Vitulli, vice president of community and government relations at A&P, Montvale, N.J.
"We're doing big business with 2-, 3- and 4-foot heroes," he said, adding that sales of the sandwiches keep growing steadily.
"People buy them for parties and for watching sports. And they seem to be finding new occasions to buy them for, like Father's Day. They're easy to serve and to eat," Vitulli added.
He said the chain's delis also have been wrapping up more varieties of sandwiches and, in some stores, putting them on top of the service deli counter as well as in self-service cases. "The more we wrap, the more we sell," Vitulli said. The chain has no plans for made-to-order sandwich stations right now because they involve too much labor, he said.
Ingles Markets, Black Mountain, N.C., hasn't gone the made-to-order route either, but the 179-unit chain has created some attention-getting varieties.
"We've recently put together an Armenian sandwich that looks just great in a small clamshell sub container," said Phillip Grasso, Ingles' director of deli operations. The rolled sandwiches, made on flat bread or flour tortillas, are $3.99 a pound.
Ingles also has put together a three-sandwich "combo pack" containing a turkey, a roast beef and a ham sandwich on Kaiser rolls, together on a tray, overwrapped, for $2.99.
"The customer sees it as a good value, and it's more like a meal. And most of all it makes a bigger ring for us. Instead of buying one sandwich for $1.69, people are picking up the pack because it's appealing. They're really flying out of here," Grasso said.
A "healthy" selection of sandwiches was launched last month at Dallas-based Tom Thumb Food & Pharmacy, a division of Randall's Food Markets, Houston.
The three-item line includes smoked turkey and Alpine Lace provolone on thin-sliced sourdough; oven-roasted chicken breast with Alpine Lace cheddar on sourdough, and oven-roasted turkey breast with Alpine Swiss and alfalfa sprouts in a pita pocket, said Ron Bourland, director of food service for the 49-unit division.
"Consumers are shifting to eating more healthfully, and we wanted to be on the front edge with this program," he added.
Offered in just a few stores now, the healthy selection is so successful that it will be rolled out to all units before the end of this month, Bourland said.
At D'Agostino Supermarkets, Larchmont, N.Y., "we're trying to offer our customers different types of sandwiches, with specialty meats or one of our prepared foods," said Jesse Kirsch, director of deli-bakery merchandising for the 21-unit chain.
"Sandwiches are a big growth category because you can be so creative with them," Kirsch said, adding that the chain sometimes features a sandwich with its in-store grilled chicken breast or other prepared food.
Using an in-store prepared item on a sandwich accomplishes two things. It calls attention
to sandwiches and it spotlights the chain's prepared foods program at the same time, Kirsch pointed out.
At Quillin's, La Crosse, Wis., a big dog soon will be encouraging customers to fetch the new Great Dane sandwich from the self-service case. The new sandwich was created by Nancy Rand, deli coordinator for the upscale, seven-unit independent.
"We've just begun offering imported Danish ham in the deli, and I thought this would be a good way to call attention to it -- and to our sandwiches and box lunches," Rand said.
"This is a premium ham, retailing for more than $4 a pound, and we use Havarti cheese and a special sauce on the sandwich," she added.
The retailer has just hired a professional photographer and a Great Dane for a photo shoot in a nearby park. A photo of the sandwich will be superimposed to make it look as though the purebred is holding it in his mouth.
"No matter how obedient he is, we thought it would be too much of a temptation if we gave him a sandwich to hold in his mouth while the photographer took his picture," Rand said.
Her plan is to have the figure of the dog cut and set on an easel next to the self-service case where the sandwiches will be offered in clamshell packages. "We thought about doing a graphics poster of a Great Dane, but a real photo, used big, will get more attention, I think," Rand said.
In other efforts to increase sandwich sales, Quillin's is adding sandwich menu boards in its delis and has begun testing a made-to-order submarine sandwich station in one unit.
A small, 8-foot counter section will offer fresh-made subs and three or four varieties of salads, mixed as the customer watches. "I'm certain this will be great. It speaks of fresh, which people want, and people want their food their way. They like to choose. If this goes as well as we think it will, we'll roll it out to other stores pretty quickly," Rand said. The service sandwich and salad bar takes up less space than a self-service one would, Rand said. "And we'll save on packaging, too. We'll wrap the sandwiches in butcher paper. What looks fresher than that?"
Consumers Markets, Springfield, Mo., launched made-to-order subs this spring.
In a clear takeoff on Subway, the 23-unit chain has called the program "Expressway."
Michael Knisley, Consumers' deli-bakery director, said so far he's pleased with the results, adding that the subs are high-margin items. The gross, he said, is about 70%.
"We're selling an average of 50 to 60 a store each day, and one store in a tourist area is selling at least 150 a day," he said. Two Consumers units have taken their self-service subs out because the service bar is working so well and one has posted its sub menu on the front window of the store. There a surprising volume of sub sales is done in the early evening, Knisley said.
The chain is rolling the program out to all its units, and will add varieties such as tuna salad and Cajun roast beef and turkey, Knisley said.
"We haven't added an all-vegetable one, but we probably will. I see a lot of growth ahead for subs and specialty sandwiches in the supermarket deli," he added.