Foodservice’s sandwiches a cut above retail when it comes to plant-based

By Simon Billing, Executive Director Eating Better

Sandwiches are a British lunch-time staple, with approximately 3.8bn sandwiches eaten in the UK each year. Sandwiches can be both a healthy and sustainable food-to-go option, but it is up to food businesses to ensure they’re offering a balanced range of low meat and plant-based options. Sandwiches Unwrapped 2022 looked at the range of sandwiches on offer across supermarkets and foodservice, and the balance of meat and non-meat sandwich options in comparison to the previous survey in 2019. This year we also conducted a public attitudes poll, which revealed that more than 60% of people are willing to eat less meat and a quarter are eating less than they were a year ago.

Foodservice is leading the way by offering more plant-based options

The sandwich sector has shrunk significantly in the past three years, which may be due, in part, to the market still trying to recover from the pandemic. However, it is still dominated by meat. A number of high street chains (including Pret, Costa, Caffe Nero, Greggs and Subway) are leading the way and are performing better than food retailers, with a third of options meat-free and plant-based accounting for 17% of foodservice sandwiches compared to 10% of food retail.

Meat-free and plant-based options need to be accessible and affordable in comparison to their meat counterparts. While Greggs may have not yet fully balanced their range of meat and meat-free options, their plant-based sandwiches are on average 21% cheaper than meat-based options. Similarly, Costa’s plant-based options were found to be 13% cheaper on average. However, Pret and Subway both currently price plant-based sandwiches higher than meat alternatives on average (9% and 7% higher respectively).

We found a surge in alternative protein ingredients that now make up a quarter of meat-free sandwiches, up by 620% on our 2019 survey figures (Quorn, This is NOT Chicken and own-brand equivalent). This rise comes at the expense of reducing vegetarian options, rather than meat-based sandwiches.

For the first time since we started our sandwich survey back in 2015, foodservice is out in front in terms of offering more sustainable options. Pret, Costa and Caffe Nero have rebalanced their offer so less than 50% is now meat-based, which is great progress. Our aim with this survey is to show what can be done and highlight the food businesses that are working hard to make it easier for everyone to eat healthily and sustainably. We need the rest of the field and particularly, food retail, to catch up.”

Eating Better’s recommendations include:

  • Reduce meat-based options to less than 50% of the range
  • Reduce cheese content and increase healthier fillings, like vegetables and pulses
  • Price plant-based sandwiches competitively against meat, fish and vegetarian options.
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