In the important world of portability, sandwiches are the quintessential ever-evolving handheld. Industry-leading menus show that everything from the flavor and menu placement to the ingredients and bread are up for innovation. To capture a larger piece of this delivery-friendly market, simply select a focus and explore the novelty your operation can bring to the dine-in or to-go plate.
An international focus opens the door to a different palate of ingredient combinations, spices and bread types. Chefs rank global fare and flavors in the top five hottest culinary trends for 2022, according to the National Restaurant Association’s What’s Hot 2022 Culinary Forecast survey.1
A scan of U.S. menus shows that among chicken sandwiches alone, Tuscan, tandoori, curry, banh mi and jerk chicken variations are appearing on trendy restaurant menus.2 This demonstrates that others have done the R&D and found that these sandwich types with their traditional ingredients and flavors have legs.
For example, the Champion’s Curry menu in Los Angeles and Irvine, California, features Champion’s Curry Katsu sandwich on brioche bread, served with a cup of curry as a sandwich dip.
A glance at the bread type for the Jerk Chicken Sandwich on offer at Bahama Breeze demonstrates a well-coordinated theme. The Darden-owned chain describes the sandwich as hand-pulled jerk chicken and melted pepper jack cheese on hot-pressed Cuban bread.
The Southern Seoul sandwich at Char’d Restaurant in Tempe, Arizona, calls on flavor-forward chicken thigh meat, which it double-batter fries, then covers it in gochugaru garlic paste mixed with sesame emulsion and tops it with kimchi slaw — served on a toasted potato bun.3
Breakfast is beloved by consumers, with breakfast restaurant meals ranking considerably higher than other dayparts across Yelp, Google and TripAdvisor customer reviews.4 Popular as it is, morning sandwich innovation can easily go stale with only bacon and sausage proteins.
Breakfast, in fact, opens a lane to continue the crispy chicken sandwich wars that began in 2019 when Popeyes launched its vastly popular and widely acclaimed fried chicken sandwich.5
But how about a crispy chicken sandwich on the breakfast menu? It’s a playground with a lot of potential. As recently as March 2022, McDonald’s began testing a new Crispy Chicken Breakfast sandwich in select markets.6 The all-white meat chicken is fried and served on a choice of biscuit or toasted English muffin.
While chicken biscuit sandwiches are widespread on menus, there’s room for incorporating new flavors and sauces in this familiar format. In February 2022, Wendy’s spiced up their breakfast lineup by introducing the Hot Honey Chicken Biscuit, featuring chicken breast topped with hot honey served on a buttermilk biscuit.7
There’s also plenty of opportunity for turkey on the breakfast sandwich menu. Muffin Can Stop Us, a breakfast concept in Glendale, California, features an English muffin sandwich section that includes the Madame Muff Muffin with turkey, egg, cheddar, spinach and aioli as well as the Muffia Club Muffin with turkey, bacon, swiss cheese, tomato, spinach and aioli.
Replacing the bread with other breakfast ingredients, from french toast to waffles, is another way to innovate on the breakfast sandwich. Savory waffle sandwiches are an emerging contender, according to Datassential.2 Sheetz, a prepared food-forward convenience store chain based in Altoona, Pennsylvania, recently added a Waffle Crispy Chicken Sandwich to its menu, leveraging several trends at once.
Remember your mindful eaters looking for options they can feel good about now and in the future. For example, currently 9% of those on a diet are practicing the low-carb keto diet while an additional 24% indicate that the keto diet is one they are interested in practicing.8 This suggests that the trend will likely continue.
Growing interest in low-carb diets begs for a revisit of the sandwich carrier — like Jimmy John’s Sandwiches has done with its Unwich® that it describes as a healthy lettuce wrap sandwich. It comes tightly wrapped in lettuce leaves and paper. The menu touts, “Any sandwich as an unwich® contains 10g or less total carbs.” This includes its Turkey Tom with turkey, lettuce, tomato and mayo as one of the lowest-calorie sandwiches on the menu.
If you choose to go with turkey or chicken as lean-meat sandwich protein choices, give them power on the menu by sourcing and marketing the poultry as free range, no antibiotics ever, fed an all-vegetarian diet and the like.
Whatever your choice of protein or carrier, ratchet up the flavor with your thoughtful ingredients. Spices being adopted on trendy restaurant sandwiches, according to Datassential, are poblano, wasabi and pepperoncini peppers. Global ingredients showing up between the slices are falafel, harissa, tzatziki and tahini. As for cheese, goat, brie, pimento cheese and beer cheese are appearing more often.9
For any sandwich build that fits within your operational focus, be sure to choose themes with palate-pleasing flavor-first variety. Your guests will find your innovation refreshing.
- What’s Hot 2022 Culinary Forecast,National Restaurant Association, Nov. 16, 2021, https://go.restaurant.org/rs/078-ZLA-461/images/2022_What%27s_Hot_Report.pdf
- Datassential SNAP! Chicken Sandwich Menu Adoption Chart, March 2022
- Jennings, Lisa, “Sandwich Porn: This Year’s Top Trends,” Restaurant Hospitality, Aug. 11, 2021, https://www.restaurant-hospitality.com/best-sandwiches/sandwich-porn-year-s-top-trends
- Thorne, Bret, “Breakfast Returns to Restaurants with Healthy, Spicy and Indulgent Options,” Nation’s Restaurant News, April 7, 2022, https://www.nrn.com/food-trends/breakfast-returns-restaurants-healthy-spicy-and-indulgent-options
- Wheeler, Kevin, “Popeyes Started a Chicken Sandwich War in 2019,” USA Today, Dec. 31, 2019, https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/food/2019/12/31/popeyes-chicken-sandwich-food-fight-2019-2020/2785127001/
- Lake, Amber, “McDonald’s is Offering This New Breakfast Sandwich,” eatthis.com, March 24, 2022, https://www.eatthis.com/news-mcdonalds-testing-new-breakfast-sandwich/
- Maze, Jonathan. “Wendy’s is Introducing a Hot New Breakfast Sandwich,” Restaurant Business, February 2, 2022, https://www.restaurantbusinessonline.com/food/wendys-introducing-hot-new-breakfast-sandwich
- Foodbytes, “Health: What Does it Mean Today” report (Datassential), November 2021
- Datassential SNAP Sandwich Ingredients Menu Adoption Chart, March 2022