Whether spicy or mild, chicken proves a popular sandwich protein, while fresh and aesthetically appealing sandwiches remain vital to driving foodservice as a destination.

By Isabelle Gustafson

Both sandwiches and chicken are notorious for driving c-store sales, so it’s no wonder chicken sandwiches are finding a permanent spot on many c-store menus. In its “2019 SNAP Report” on sandwiches, Datassential noted 78.7% of foodservice sandwiches contain chicken, making it the most commonly used sandwich protein on menus.

But no matter the ingredients or style, whether prepackaged or made to order, the key lies in ensuring sandwiches are fresh and not only taste good, but look good, too.

“Fresh is the key, I always say. Being a dietician, I’m big into fresh, fresh and more fresh,” said Nancy Caldarola, president of The Food Training Group.

Caldarola cited fast-casual sandwich chain Pret a Manger as a shining example. 

“They know exactly how many (sandwiches) to make (daily) with a very small amount left over,” she said. “If you can get to that point, then you can afford to give away 5-10% of the product.”

Getting to that point, she said, requires a lot of groundwork.

“You’ve got to save the data,” Caldarola said. “You’ve got to know exactly what sold, what day it sold, and you cannot put that off. That’s very important because that’s how you get fresh sandwiches. And that’s how you buy fresh products. And that’s how you stay on top of profitability that comes along with freshness.”

 

Perfecting Presentation

Derek Thurston, director of foodservice for Marcy, N.Y.-based Cliff’s Local Market, agreed that freshness is hugely important to a successful sandwich program. But he emphasized that a sandwich’s appearance, its presentation, is also key.

“You can have the greatest ingredients in the world, but if it’s slopped together, and it doesn’t look like a good product, then you’re not going to go anywhere with your sandwich program,” he said. 

To ensure every sandwich looks up to par, he trains employees to place each ingredient in a specific sequence — lettuce, then spinach, then tomato, then cucumber, then pickles, then onions, then green peppers, then olives — something he believes to be more important now than ever before, thanks to the rise of social media food photography.

“I think it’s very important to make a great-looking sandwich because nowadays, someone’s probably going to take a darn picture of it before they eat it. And that’s your brand out there on social media,” Thurston said.

Caldarola added that packaging and merchandising are important pieces of the presentation puzzle. Not only should the sandwich look good, but it should be marketed well, too, and that means placing it next to add-on items like chips and drinks.

“You have to be able to dress it up,” she said. “All those things people would eat, you have them together, merchandised as a package.”

Jason Schindler, operator of Markle, Ind.-based Crossroads Pantry, said his customers usually pair their sandwiches with chips and a fountain drink, but that this depends heavily on the season. 

“We sell, primarily, a lot more fountain than we do bottled. But a lot of that depends on the time of year,” he said. “Right now, in the Arizona heat wave, we’re selling a ton of Gatorade, as opposed to (soda). So a lot of Gatorade. A lot of water.”

 

Chicken Appeals

Schindler said prepackaged sandwiches in particular are popular with the chain’s customers, who appreciate taste, value and, perhaps above all, convenience.

“My customers tend to not want to wait,” he said. “We pre-make them, wrap them and put them in a sandwich case for grab and go.”

Crossroads Pantry uses Broaster for most of its chicken foodservice, which Schindler said does very well as a whole. Its chicken sandwiches are from Michigan-based Gordon Food Service — both an original and a spicy option.

Whether spicy or not, prepackaged or made to order, Caldarola said chicken makes for an ideal sandwich topping.

“There’s so many things you can do to it,” she said. “You can fry it ahead of time. You can have it cold. You can put sauces on it. You can marinate it. It’s very versatile.”

Thurston said that while Cliff’s offers plenty of traditional deli sandwiches, and turkey represents the No. 1 seller at around 10% of all sandwiches sold, chicken is not to be overlooked.

“We have what we consider our chicken collection,” he said. “We’ll do a chicken cordon bleu sandwich. We’ll do a western barbecue, a buffalo one. When you combine all the different chicken sandwiches we do, it’s a top mover at our stores.”