In for the fill

Whether it’s a familiar favourite or a taste of the exotic, sandwich fillings can help fill the gaps left as we tighten our belts in austerity. By Stephanie Sparrow

Eat’s new Cubano toastie

Eat’s new Cubano toastie

In harsh economic times, the versatility of the sandwich comes into its own. Its contents can be comforting, according to Neil Brownbill, marketing director for food firm Princes.

“We’re seeing a trend for people seeking familiarity, opting for food and flavours they know,” he says. Princes has responded by offering the nation’s favourite dishes in a paste with its British Classics range – including baked beans and chicken tikka flavours – which is packaged with a Union flag theme.

Eating out has become a rare treat for most, leaving those who want to try different cuisines to sample them in a sandwich, not at a restaurant table.

“Many consumers are stuck between low confidence reining in the likelihood of making adventurous choices, and a growing semblance of ‘recession fatigue’,” says Helena Spicer, senior foodservice analyst at market researcher Mintel.

“As such, there has been an explosion of more exotic flavour options in familiar formats such as sandwiches.”

Faith MacArthur, founder and brand director of Eat, which makes and sells 10m sandwich products a year, agrees. “There is definitely a move to innovative tastes,” she says.

The economy may be acontributing factor, she adds, explaining that we are looking for low-risk ways to colour to our lives – or at least our lunch breaks. “People don’t always want to be austere with eating habits.”

Eat has just launched a Vietnamese chicken and chilli baguette known as the Chicken Banh Mi and the Cubano, a cheese, ham, pork and dill pickle toastie.

The popularity of tangy pickles disputes the British reputation for bland tastes. “We don’t pare back for the British palate,” says MacArthur. “Customers want to taste real flavours, which they may have come across when they were travelling, for example.”

A similar mood is seen in home-filled sandwiches. “Increased foreign travel has exposed consumers to new foods, and awakened their interest in authentic flavours,” says Rob Cottam, head development chef at the English Provender Company, which sells 440,000 jars of condiments a year.

One of its best-sellers is the preservative-free Hot Horseradish which can pep up relatively inexpensive ingredients such as smoked mackerel or cold meats.

Cottam makes a case for using condiments to create glamorous sandwiches from the remnants of a Sunday roast or a dinner party. “Our caramelised red onion chutney works well with left-over cheese,” he says.

Austerity chic in the kitchen means consumers are looking to create a gourmet tastes without breaking the bank. Which could be why chutneys and conserves are making a comeback, says food futurologist and academic Dr Morgaine Gaye.

“Remember bread and jam in the 1960s and 70s? We are going to see a new sexed-up version of that,” she says, “such as gourmet preserve with a nut butter.”

Jam could be a low-key way of joining this year’s patriotic celebrations, too – Tiptree Jubilee Jam is made from the strawberry of that name, while Marks & Spencer’s classic jam sandwich for the royal occasion comes in at a rather budget-friendly £1.25.