Independent sandwich bars and cafes finding it hard to put sustainability on the menu, faced with increasing pressures that prevent them from offering either healthy or sustainable products, states a new report.

A dependence on a very small group of major wholesalers, combined with competition from fast food giants undercutting them on price throughout their supply chains, means unsustainable practices are often the only option, according to An Inconvenient Sandwich - a report by New Economics Foundation.

“Our small independent cafes and sandwich bars are finding themselves locked into a vicious cycle where they can only survive by buying unsustainable supplies and employing cheap labour,” said report author Rosalind Sharpe.

“There might have been a massive growth in consumers choosing ethical options, but that is not being reflected when we purchase our daily sandwich.”

The report highlights the hidden costs of the cheap takeaway sandwich: heavily processed food from unsustainable sources; food loaded with calories, fat and sugar; poor working conditions throughout the supply chain, and the lack of realistic options independent sandwich bars and cafes face even if they want to provide healthy and sustainable products.  

“This report is really about the throwaway economics of takeaway food,” added Sharpe. “Our hectic consumerist lifestyle depends on the quick, portable, cheap food we buy from cafés and takeaways. But this casual food requires cheap raw materials, a cheapening of the value of life and labour, and a disregard for harmful knock-on effects in the present and the future.

“We want to get discussion going on how our local independent takeaways and cafes can both survive and give their customers real choice and sustainable options.”