PHILADELPHIA -- As retailers gear up to offer customers meal solutions, they should not forget to bring sandwiches to the table, according to Al Lovi, deli specialist at Columbus Distributing Co., San Francisco.
A sandwich can be a meal that's both convenient for the consumer and a money-maker for the deli, Lovi told attendees at the Laurel, Md.-based Retailer's Bakery Association convention and show here last month.
At the "Idea Center," a part of the RBA show floor devoted to an exchange of merchandising ideas, he presented ideas and demos on how to make new and interesting sandwiches and how to sell them. Questions from show attendees were encouraged.
"People were interested in how they could put a meal on bread or a roll. They felt that interesting sandwiches were something they could add to their deli mix without too much trouble," Lovi said in a post-show interview with SN. He stressed that it makes sense for supermarket delis to make sandwiches since they have all the ingredients and can take more than a two-thirds gross margin on a good sandwich. "But it'd better be a great sandwich or you can drive customers away," he said.
Lovi showed attendees at the RBA show how to make sandwiches with unusual ingredients such as radishes, avocados, bean sprouts and easy-but-unique sauces such as a fresh lemon-garlic-olive oil. Items like marinated artichokes can "bring life to a sandwich," he said.
Lovi also suggested to retailers that they set themselves apart from the competition by using upgraded meats such as store-roasted turkey and roast beef.
"You can charge up to $1.50 more per sandwich if they're made from store-roasted turkey, because people want that flavor and they'll pay for it," he said. He suggested calling it "Thanksgiving-style, freshly roasted turkey," on signs and announcing it that way over public address systems to attract customers' attention.
He also advised retailers to use merchandising tools such as a simple sandwich menu board posted so it's easy to see, an order form on which the customer can check off what he wants on his sandwich, placing trays of wrapped sandwiches on top of the deli service case and giving sandwiches catchy names.
Lovi said he recently helped Servidio's Market in Copperopolis, Calif., nudge sales of its newly introduced muffaletta sandwich upward with a big sign. The sign, hanging in the deli, says, "Copperopolis Muffaletta -- It's a Mouthful. $3.75 a Wedge."
Muffalettas, which originated in New Orleans, feature an olive spread as a distinctive ingredient along with various deli meats and cheeses, built on a whole, round loaf of bread and then cut into wedges. Also at Servidio's, Lovi cut sandwiches in half, wrapped the halves in see-through film and piled them high on a platter on top of the deli counter. The halves were stacked with the inside of the sandwich facing outward.
"We sold 18 of those in a matter of minutes, and it wasn't even noon yet," Lovi said. He also suggested that retailers make the most of the order form opportunity. "Ask customers to sign their name to it. So, when the associate has finished making and wrapping the sandwich, he calls out the customer's name. That makes the customer feel good and the associate is learning the customer's name. Maybe he'll remember it the next time that customer comes in," Lovi said. At RBA's Idea Center, Lovi demonstrated how to construct a sandwich in order to give it what he called ultimate flavor and texture.
"For example, you should put the mustard on the bottom half of the sandwich, then the meat. Otherwise, if you put the mustard on the top slice of bread or roll, it hits the palate first and that's not good. It's so sharp that it obliterates all the other tastes," he said. Next, on top of the meat, comes the cheese, tomato and lettuce in that order, he said.
"You don't want the tomato next to the bread because its moisture will seep into the bread, making it soggy," he said. He added that he often uses small, plum tomatoes because they hold together well. And he doesn't use shredded lettuce. "At least 80% of retailers I know use shredded lettuce for sandwiches, but they shouldn't because it inevitably falls all over everything, often into the customer's lap."
Lovi said his first suggestion to retailers is to make sure that rolls and bread are fresh and that they should promote that fact. Signs can tell customers that rolls and bread are baked fresh every day in-store, he said.
"And have a variety of breads, as many as 10, available for sandwiches. Customers want more in bread these days. They like texture and multigrains," Lovi said.
Lovi, who conducts merchandising classes at Columbus Distributing Co.'s "Deli University" in San Francisco, has worked with a number of West Coast chains on their sandwich programs, among them Lucky Stores, Dublin, Calif.; Safeway, Oakland, Calif., and Nob Hill Foods, Gilroy, Calif.