The age of customization is in full force in the sandwich and foodservice category, and bakery cafes across the country are pulling out all the stops to accommodate this need.
“Whether it’s for pizza, sandwiches, or salads, we have seen customization transition from being an amenity for consumers to becoming a necessity,” says Darren Tristano, president of Technomic. “As evidenced partially by the notable explosion of build-your-own pizza chains, customizability has become a hallmark of successful fast-casual chains and is firmly in place as an expectation among consumers looking either to trade up from traditional fast food or down from casual dining.”
In the sandwich bread category, leaders like Great Harvest Bread Co. are expanding their choices of sandwiches.
“We make all of these different kinds of bread,” Eric Keshin, president of Great Harvest Bread Co., told Milling & Baking News in a recent interview. “The same way Starbucks created this whole discussion how you want your coffee, which you go back to 1980 nobody was having that discussion, but now it takes five minutes to order a cup of coffee because of all of the things you have to say. What’s going to happen at Great Harvest is finally the outside of the sandwich is going to be as good as the inside, and you’re going to have a choice of what kind of bread you want on that kind of sandwich.”
These products include the Best-Ever B.L.T. and the Grown-Up Grilled Cheese. The sandwiches are offered on unique, different kinds of bread to give the consumer a new profile. Great Harvest puts as much emphasis on the sandwich’s ingredients as the bread, Keshin says.
Since opening as a bakery in the 1970s, Great Harvest Bread Co. has evolved to a bakery-cafe style. After introducing sandwiches, the company moved to salads where it now has four salad recipes. The salads evolved into its newest product, called the grain bowl. This product simply adds a roasted grain component to the salads. The grains include wheat berry, quinoa and numerous seeds, with all ingredients on-hand in the store.


Bagels, Breads and More


Einstein Bros. and Noah’s Bagels expanding lineup of menu offerings includes new introductions like the Twist n’ Dip bagel, a pull-apart bagel with choice of two shmears, and the Cheesy Bacon Egg Sandwich on a cheesy bacon gourmet bagel. 

Further, Corner Bakery Cafe has devoted an entire new menu dishes from Italy. The restaurant’s new Italian Inspirations menu features the Italian Classic Sandwich, the Rustic Italian Panini and the Italian Chef Salad.
“We’ve combined traditional Italian meats and cheeses to create classic Italian flavors in our cafes,” said Ric Scicchitano, executive vice president of the food and supply chain at Corner Bakery Cafe. “Guests will experience the fresh tastes of Italy with capicola ham, Genoa salami, provolone, fresh mozzarella and pepperoncini featured in our new sandwiches and salads.”
Corner Bakery Cafe also has recently opened restaurants in three new states in the Northwest, including Montana, Oregon and Washington. The brand will continue to build out this area of the country through agreements with multi-unit franchisees.
Corner Bakery Cafe opened in Montana June 6 in Bozeman. The cafe is operated by restaurant and franchise veterans David Moorhead and Brian Anderson of Anderson Management Group, which also operates seven local Buffalo Wild Wings restaurants.
Washington state’s first Corner Bakery Cafe opened in May south of Seattle in Tukwila. It’s owned and operated by Northwest Corner, LLC. The group plans to open a total of 16 Corner Bakery Cafe locations throughout Washington with two scheduled to open this summer in Silverdale and Issaquah.
The first Corner Bakery Cafe in Oregon opened earlier this year in The Streets of Tanasbourne in Hillsboro. The cafe is owned and operated by experienced restaurant and franchise group NW Ventures, with plans to open a total of 12 locations throughout Oregon and Vancouver, Washington, with the second Portland-area restaurant opening later this year in Bridgeport Village Shopping Center in Tigard.
“We are fortunate to have such strong operators expanding the Corner Bakery brand in the Northwest and look forward to providing fresh, customizable options for breakfast, lunch, and dinner all at a great value to our guests,” said Corner Bakery’s chief executive officer Frank Paci.

Delivery Service


In addition to custom menu preferences, today’s customers also are growing pickier about how they want to place and pick up their orders. For Panera Bread Co., delivery always was part of the plan. But what the St. Louis-based company has found over the past four years of prototyping and testing in multiple forms is that Panera is “perfectly suited for mass-market delivery.”
“Panera can offer a high self-esteem fast casual alternative to the low-end Asian and pizza offerings now flooding the delivery market,” Ron Shaich, founder, chairman and chief executive officer of Panera, told analysts during a recent earnings call. “Indeed, we see a whitespace in delivery options for healthful high-quality salads, sandwiches, and soups. The fact is, delivery is a powerful initiative, and it will make a huge difference at Panera. It represents a significant sales layer. Indeed, delivery sales six months after roll-out approach approximately 5,000 per week on average.”
Panera’s research has shown that delivery grows at a rate significantly faster than its eat-in and to-go business. Another benefit is that start-up costs for delivery at Panera are modest, primarily relegated to hiring costs. Panera only accepts digital orders for delivery, which fits in nicely with the e-commerce capabilities built for Panera 2.0. All in all, delivery has quickly become a “powerful profit generator” for Panera, Shaich says.
Foodservice delivery is the ultimate in dining convenience and is winning visits at the expense of restaurant drive thru, reports The NPD Group, a leading global information company. Over the past four years, delivery has grown by 69 million visits (orders), while drive thru traffic fell by 128 million visits from May 2012 through May 2016, according to a recently released NPD report on foodservice delivery. 
The growth in foodservice delivery is even greater when pizza delivery is taken out of the equation. Pizza delivery still makes up over 60 percent of foodservice delivery visits, but traffic has declined by double-digits over the last four years. Consumers instead are ordering delivery from a variety of restaurants including quick service Asian and burger, full service, and fast casual, finds the NPD Group report, Delivery: A Growth Opportunity on the Horizon.    
Foodservice delivery options are especially important to Gen Z and Millennials.  Currently, these two groups represent 51 percent of the U.S. population, a large target group who will drive the growth in delivery far into the future. These consumers want to eat their favorite foods when they want it, regardless of where they are, as well as order and pay for it with the click of a button.  
“If delivery fits a restaurant operator’s business model and is operationally feasible, now is the time to consider adding it as an option for customers,” says Bonnie Riggs, NPD Group’s restaurant industry analyst. “It’s one way to stay competitive and relevant in a low growth foodservice environment.   However, before moving ahead with a delivery program, it is important to understand the growth opportunity along with the potential barriers to use that might exist from the consumer perspective.”