BASHAS' ROLLS OUT CUSTOM SANDWICHES

CHANDLER, Ariz. -- Bashas' here is rolling out a made-to-order sandwich program featuring artisan breads and a selection of unique condiments.After recently completing a two-store test, the company is introducing the program in clusters of five to seven stores at a time, said Jay Volk, vice president of food service at the 144-store chain."We felt the sandwich category was flat, but we also feel it

CHANDLER, Ariz. -- Bashas' here is rolling out a made-to-order sandwich program featuring artisan breads and a selection of unique condiments.

After recently completing a two-store test, the company is introducing the program in clusters of five to seven stores at a time, said Jay Volk, vice president of food service at the 144-store chain.

"We felt the sandwich category was flat, but we also feel it has great growth potential," Volk said. "We are still in the rollout phase, [but] overall, the program is being well received by our customers."

The program features upscale condiments, such as olive tapanade, pico de gallo and salsa, along with avocado and garlic spreads. Running the gamut from Classic Ham and Swiss to a Malibu Club and Tuscan Turkey, the sandwiches retail at $4.99 for an 8-inch sandwich or wrap, to $8.99 for a super-size 16-inch sandwich or wrap. For $1 more, customers can upgrade their meats to Boar's Head brand.

"One of the good things from a customer's perspective is they can have a sub, traditional sandwich, or wrap made from any of the sandwich offerings," he said. "They seem to like the variety that is offered, rather than just a sub or sandwich."

The sandwich offering is a natural fit for the chain's delis, which already feature full kitchens and offer customers a selection of take home items like pizza and fried chicken. For two years, the company has also offered its "Chef's Entree" menu. Planned out one month in advance, the menu offers customers a variety of healthy dinner entrees. Prepared fresh daily, all entrees are accompanied with vegetable side dishes and are priced at $6.99 for a single order, or $23.96 for a family of four.

Incorporating the sandwich program into the already-comprehensive deli department was fairly simple, said Volk, noting no additional staff, equipment, or remodeling had been necessary at any of the stores.

"We already had existing sandwich counters, so it's more a matter of training at store level," Volk said.

After offering prepackaged sandwiches for years, a growing number of supermarket deli departments have begun to see potential in made-to-order programs, given the success of quick-service restaurants like Subway and Quizno's, as well as the growing popularity of similar programs at convenience stores.

Sandwiches can be profitable. Average gross margins on sandwiches are 54% for supermarket deli departments, according to research by the International Deli Dairy Bakery Association, Madison, Wis. As Volk indicated, the category has plenty of room to grow within the channel.

According to ACNielsen, 29% of consumers buy hot and cold sandwiches, but only 13% purchase them at supermarkets.