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QSR Feature
Convenience at Its Best
No matter the foodservice format, sandwiches play a role in steering profits at lunchtime.
Sandwich menu items are a major convenience draw for restaurant patrons.

Perhaps the greatest thing since sliced bread is what goes between sliced bread. It defines the person and the eating establishment that poises itself to gain the midday moolah.

Consumers are pretty crazy about their sandwiches—from the college student who grills up a chocolate sandwich to the pregnant woman who assembles a folic acid sandwich with collard greens and kale. Even the French Laundry’s Thomas Keller developed a sandwich for actor Adam Sandler to whip up in the movie Spanglish that had viewers begging for the recipe.

All ingredients and all food outlets are prospects for sandwich success, especially if the finger fare falls within the trends of unique breads, flavorful ingredients, and a fresh aura.

Deli meat slapped on two pieces of Wonder bread and wrapped in plastic wrap won’t cut it anymore when consumers can buy a better sandwich anywhere. Quick-serve and fast-casual outlets have plenty of competition from convenience stores, grocery store prepared-meal sections, and school and business cafeterias. Leaders rise from each service segment with their renditions of sandwiches that satisfy—with equally amazing service.

Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase), said in National Lampoon’s Vacation movie, “I’m so hungry, I could eat a sandwich from a gas station.” That was hilarious back in 1983. “But I’m not so sure a 15 year-old kid gets that joke today to the level it inspired laughs 25 years ago,” says Jeff Lenard, vice president of communications for The Association for Convenience & Petroleum Retailing in Alexandria, Virginia.

Sandwich-serving convenience stores garner an annual average of $8,100 per store from the fare. It helps add to the bottom line when the outlets make 80 percent of their sales from gas and cigarettes, Lenard says. And it brings in a wider variety of customers.

“The challenge for c-stores is that there is an absolute quantum difference between being a retailer and being a restaurant, and if you’re selling sandwiches, you’re a restaurant. There’s a different mindset,” he says.

For that reason, some convenience stores partner with a chef or foodservice operator to take over the sandwiches.

Four of the 35 NOCO Express convenience stores with headquarters in Tonawanda, New York, partner with a local New York restaurateur, Charlie Roesch, who is known as Charlie the Butcher. Roesch taught NOCO how to assemble his signature sandwich, a carved roast beef on a kummelweck roll, or “beef on a weck.” The same sandwich is also served at Wegmans Food Markets, headquartered in Rochester, New York.

But that’s not all that NOCO does with sandwiches. From a central commissary, NOCO started a fresh sandwich program last April. The program is in 20 of the c-store chain’s units with plans to expand to all the locations this year. NOCO’s program is in line with national convenience-store trends. Ninety-four percent of convenience stores have commissary-prepared foods.

NOCO chooses to prepare its own sandwiches rather than buy from a wholesaler because consumers are looking for fresher food “with the perceived healthiness of freshly made sandwiches versus packaged stuff from the wholesaler that’s shrink-wrapped and good for 30 days. We’re trying to get away from that,” says Terry Messmer, NOCO’s merchandise manager.

Brentwood, Tennessee–based c-store chain MAPCO Express Inc. is in its infancy with its Grille Marx concept. Eleven of the 500 units offer the new made-to-order food brand. “The majority of what we sell is ordered from the touchscreen order machines and is made to order,” says Paul Pierce, vice president of marketing. The units offer BLTs, grilled or fried chicken sandwiches, chicken or beef cheesesteak sandwiches, burgers and subs. All sandwiches can be made on a kaiser roll, sliced white or wheat bread, ciabatta, focaccia, pita, or made into a wrap.

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