John Montague (1718-1792), the fourth Earl of Sandwich, often gets the credit for inventing the sandwich.

But in fact, the idea of placing food products between two baked products dates back as far as the 1st Century BC, according to US author Linda Stradley, when Rabbi Hillel the Elder started the Passover custom of sand-wiching a mixture of chopped nuts, apples, spices, and wine between two matzohs. Whoever the credit rightly belongs to, sandwiches are big business these days. And whether your focus is on the humble chicken salad sandwich or the more left-field haggis breakfast sandwich, such as that proffered by food retailer Grazing, there is now some £3.8 billion worth of business up for grabs, according to market analyst Keynote.

Boosting the market are changing consumer demographics; longer working days and shorter lunchbreaks, more working women and the focus on healthy, light lunches have all served to produce 23% growth since 2002 (source: Mintel), and there are now some 11.5 billion sandwiches eaten every year. But bakery retailers have a tough fight on their hands if they want to keep the lion’s share of the business.

According to Keynote’s 2007 Coffee & Sandwich Shops market assessment, bakers’ leading but declining 33.5% share of volume sales and 26.4% share of value is now under intense pressure from quarters such as the multiples (particularly Tesco) and from variety/department stores such as Marks & Spencer. The grocer-cum-fashion retailer has been particularly effective at poaching customers with its pioneering ’super food’ sandwiches, which upgrade a quick bite into something truly functional, Mintel’s analysts believe.

Higher-priced alternatives to the traditional sandwich wedge, such as wraps, submarines and baguettes, increasingly sold with exotic fillings and made of breads such as rye, pitta, focaccia and ciabatta, are also proving formidable weapons in the battle for market share.

== Lunchtime and beyond ==

It is certainly possible for bakery retailers to make a living out of the lunchtime market (see Hanson’s case study below) and there are clear opportunities.

Despite the ’low-interest’ character of the market, consumers still like flexibility when it comes to their lunchtime choice, and bakery retailers are in a prime position to capitalise on the made-to-order market. With pre-packed sandwiches accounting for almost all sandwich sales through the grocery, c-store and forecourt sectors, made-to-order remains the preserve of the independent - and it is a market worth around £1.52bn.

Bakers who make a success out of made-to-order say the key is to give the consumer more control, by offering them separate servings of condiments or ’dip pots’. Microwaveable fillings or toast bags that mean a standard sandwich can be toasted in a regular toaster also add a different dimension to a traditional favourite.

Made-to-order sandwiches can also be paired with salad and soup and sold as a ’meal deal’, and healthy eaters wooed, through signage such as: ’Sandwich with Soup = just 500 calories and two of your five-a-day’, as well as healthier bread choices. For ’green’ customers, the focus could be on ethical packaging, which minimises waste, or local and free-range components that give the complete ’green’ experience. However, analysts also believe there could now be new sandwich eating occasions up for grabs.

Consumers who work early or late, or who have a long commute, may well be looking for a small meal to tide them over until they get home. ’Eat me, keep me’ promotions - where two products are purchased, one to eat right away and the second to eat later - can position sandwiches as a great standby food, Mintel believes.

There is also great potential to convert the lunchbox market. According to the British Sandwich Association (BSA), the commercial sandwich market is dwarfed by the 8.7 billion sandwiches we make in our homes each year. It is estimated that the lunchbox market - sandwiches made at home but carried out to be consumed at work or school - accounts for some 23% of this sector.

But, the health and safety and ingredient quality standards - not to mention the convenience factor - of the commercial sandwich sector make convincing arguments for switching consumers out of the lunchbox market, and there is some evidence that sandwiches are now being bought in the evening for lunchbox use the next day, BSA director Jim Winship believes. He recommends that retailers adopt an innovative yet healthy approach to their sandwiches - for example, using shaped bread, Omega-3 bread, white with the goodness of brown bread and auxiliary fruit kebabs or by giving careful thought to the content or the location of the fillings they sell. He says: "You allow the parent to buy pre-prepared sandwiches that save time with a health guarantee, and this will move pre-packed sandwiches into the lunchbox market."


=== The UK Sandwich Market ===

l The average sandwich price is £1.66

l People in Yorkshire spend the most on sandwiches - an average of over £114/year

l People in the south west spend the least - an average of £55 a year

l The most expensive place to buy a sandwich is London - average price: £1.83

l One-third of the market in value is accounted for by 25- to 34-year olds

l 55% of sandwiches eaten at home are consumed at lunchtime. A further 13% are eaten at tea, 11% at the evening meal and 7% as part of a snack. Some 14% are eaten at breakfast.

Source: TNS Impulse Food on the Go and Worldpanel

== Top 20 sandwiches purchased commercially ==

1. Chicken Salad

2. Egg & Cress

3. Chicken & Bacon

4. Bacon, Lettuce & Tomato

5. Mixed selection

6. Cheese & Onion

7. Prawn Mayonnaise

8. Ploughman’s

9. Tuna & Sweetcorn

10. Chicken

11. Chicken Caesar

12. Chicken & Stuffing

13. Salmon & Cucumber

14. Cheese & Ham

15. Cheese, Ham & Pickle

16. Egg & Bacon

17. Tuna & Cucumber

18. Hoisin Duck

19. Ham & Mustard

20. Cheese & Tomato

Source: TNS Worldpanel 2006 data using bar-coded sandwiches. New ratings are due to be published soon

== The cat that got the cream: case study ==

Highly commended in the 2007 British Sandwich Association Bakery Sandwich Shop of the Year Awards, Hansons The Bakers of Bradford does not offer any pre-packed sandwiches. This is why some customers travel over seven miles to come to the shop, owner Robert Hanson believes. "We make sandwiches as people want them, with any variation of filling and everything made on the premises, using the best ingredients. We don’t offer pre-packed, as it doesn’t offer choice and it doesn’t give consumers a reason to come back - yes, it fills a gap but doesn’t make you say ’wow’."

Attention to detail ensures that every possible customer wish is catered for, even down to the tongs used to pick up meat and vegetables, which are colour-coded red and green respectively, to appeal to the baker’s Asian and vegetarian clientele.

Instead of diversifying into baguettes or wraps, Hanson’s plan for the small family-run firm’s sandwich business is to increase his lunchtime delivery service, by accepting faxed orders and offering free delivery.

"The potential revenue will really make a difference," he says. "It’s the cream off the milk for a bakers like ours."

Hansons The Bakers, 12 Duckworth Lane, Bradford, West Yorkshire

Tel: 01274 541540

== The bread-based snack market by type and volume (%) ==

Type % share

Wedges 51

Rolls and baps 17

Type % share

Baguettes 13

Submarines 5

Type % share

Continentals 2

Bagels 2

Type % share

Other (incl pittas, paninis, wraps) 10

Total 100

Source: Impulse Food on the Go, TNS, Key Note