Packed lifestyles mean sandwiches packed with new fillings and flavours says Liam McLoughlin Snacking means speed. No longer idle nibbling, it has followed the American way to become essential refuelling for a hard pressed population on the move. Industry watchers have noted the emergence of three distinct species of snacker. There are snatchers (impulse buyers), desk grazers and dashboard diners. Ginsters' marketing controller Larry File says retail outlets' focus on speed of service and speed of consumer purchase needn't be at the expense of innovation and variety. "The food-to-go market is taking off at the moment ­ for consumers who can't wait or don't want to wait. This is the direction the chilled snack market is going. It's usually about the holy trinity' of sausage roll or pastry, can of coke and packet of crisps ­ or fuel/liquid/treat. "Because consumers are making snap decisions, they usually stick to their standard repertoire of products. To break the habit, new products need to be well marketed, branded and visually exciting." The UK sandwich market now accounts for 41% of fast food and has an overall market value of £2.66m. That's 2.18 billion sandwiches [British Sandwich Association/MAFF]. Own label dominates with Ginsters and Pork Farms the only major branded players. The multiples have been central to innovations in the sandwich business. They have recognised the high earning potential and, with their sophisticated sales tracking and stocking systems, have been able to more closely read consumer reactions ­ and react to them fast. According to the BSA, the multiples still tend to follow the category management approach which it believes "results in consumers having to walk the aisles to gain full choice". It identifies areas for growth including the tailoring of products for the lunchbox ­ an area which some retailers are now starting to address. Inevitably, the quality and variety are growing as consumers' tastes widen and expectations rise. But conservatism still predominates. "Innovations add interest and excitement, but the standard offerings, particularly in sandwiches, account for 80% of all sales, notably tuna, chicken and ham," says Susan Prescott, sales and marketing director at sandwich supplier Parkland Foods. "However, changes in consumer expectations, coupled with advances in technology that offer a fresher, tastier product, have given retailers greater opportunities." The main outlets for sandwiches are workplaces and multiples with 20% and 16.5% of the market respectively, although both sectors are now being outstripped in value terms by sandwich bars and café snack bars. Emma Thorn, marketing director at the Sandwich Factory, says it's been getting noticeably more competitive in the chiller cabinet over the last year. "Increased competition only serves to raise customer expectations," she says. "This goes for all types of competition, whether it be from other products or from sandwich bars. The products that result from this just lift the general perception of the industry. "Although retailers may focus some of their range on a target market, such as deep fills for the young and hungry' sector, they can still offer a balanced range with general appeal." There is some similarity between markets, Thorn adds, with products like bacon, lettuce and tomato having the ability to sell in most markets ­ from motorway service stations to high street stores. The last year has also seen a surge in flavoured chicken products, and vegetarian products have also seen some development. "The market isn't particularly price sensitive ­ prices are getting well over the £2 mark for a good quality, well filled sandwich. "There is a knock-on effect from what Prêt à Manger has done with its deep filled sandwiches which are made up on the premises ­ people want the look and taste of that and are prepared to pay for it. "The growth is definitely in the premium end of the market with things like Italian tuna and Chicken Caesar." Two-into-one double protein sandwiches featuring popular fillings such as bacon and chicken are also proving big sellers and combi-packs of two different sandwiches are expanding in sales, following on from triple packs which have been doing well for some time. Meat products have remained popular, even through the food scares, and the use of double proteins, such as chicken and bacon, are increasingly popular. The accent this year has moved towards the quality of products, and it is now rare to find a chicken sandwich that doesn't contain 100% breast meat. With snacking tastes leaning to the exotic, ethnic products are increasingly prominent. Ginsters has launched Fajitas soft tortillas in a range of three spicy fillings. Ginsters also produces a different Full Monty sandwich every month aimed at consumers who fancy a change from their standard lunchtime repertoire from time to time. The company claims to be the fastest growing national brand in the UK sandwich market with an annual growth rate of 7%. Fighting for space alongside sandwiches in the chiller cabinet are savoury snacks, currently worth more than £600m a year. Along with Ginsters, Pork Farms Bowyers is the only other major branded player in meat and pasty products. The Nottingham based company has just launched Snack Bars, a range of savoury snacks in a cake slice format. Group product manager Gary Johnston believes the main factors fuelling an increased demand for more substantial snacks are the continued trend towards grazing and a rise in the popularity of lunchbox meals. "People now have less time and are demanding more choice in convenient, easy to eat foods. This change in habits represents a great opportunity for retailers. "In the past, eating food was all about planned occasions, but nowadays it's about planned moods." Johnston adds that snacking displays a distinct male orientation with his company's research showing that men are well over twice as likely as women to eat Pork Farms produce out of home. "There will be tremendous opportunities for growth in the impulse sector ­ motorway service stations, convenience stores and the front of multiples," says Johnston. "The growth in convenience stores has led to the multiples investing heavily in the front of store area." Traditional producer Ashworths Foods of Preston has been responding to the more adventurous tastes of consumers with spicy vegetable pasties, pizza lattice slices and chicken tikka slices alongside its traditional combinations like pork and apple pies. John Ashworth, grandson of the company's founder, believes growth in the handheld snack and convenience market relates directly to social and leisure opportunities, particularly with the pre-eminence of television and multi-screen cinema complexes. Families are more likely to face a screen than each other around a table. Traditional working hours are more flexible. Shorter working weeks with more intensive hours, in Ashworth's view, have all influenced when and what a family unit eats. "We have a wide range of choices now available with well balanced nutritionally, consistent quality products ­ such delights as pork and bramley apple, chicken and ham pasty, vegetable pasty, butter pie and apple turnover to name but a few." Lenders Foods is trying to make a dent in the chilled snacks market with the recent launch of its Crunch-4-Lunch range. The products come in a snack pack size and contain carrot and celery batons, accompanied by a garlic mayonnaise or korma dip. Marketing advisor Natalie Tucker says: "The snack market is incredibly dynamic ­ consumers want more than just a ham sandwich nowadays. "They want variety and are happy to experiment with taste, if possible without the calories. Manufacturers must constantly reinvent their products and extend their ranges in order to keep snackers interested. "We feel Crunch-4-Lunch offers the perfect solution to these demands all at once." Yoplait Dairy Crest is also targeting the chiller cabinet with a new product combining Yoplait yogurt with McVitie's mini biscuits, aimed at bringing new customers into the category and expanding usage occasions. The biscuits are contained in a clear plastic top hat', allowing customers to see the Digestive or Hobnobs prior to purchase. Yoplait says research during development of the concept identified new usage occasions for the product in addition to those of traditional yogurts, particularly as a mid-morning treat or after-school snack. A novel format has been introduced under the Crosse & Blackwell brand in the shape of Disney sandwiches aimed at the under-11s.The sandwiches are produced by Eurofoods and cut out in the shapes of Disney's three most popular characters ­ a Mickey Mouse cheese sandwich, a 101 Dalmatians chocolate spread and a Winnie the Pooh honey sandwich. Manufacturer Eurofoods' commercial manager Phil Newton says: "The sandwich category has shown a considerable amount of innovation and rejuvenation to cater for most tastes and preferences, but so far has missed the mark with one major consumer group ­ children. We intend to extend and grow the sandwich category by targeting a large new consumer group." n {{FOCUS SPECIALS }}