The rise of the humble Sandwich

Posted on 01 November 2021

The most simple, yet still the most growing, business began in spring of 1980. 

Its so commonplace now you struggle to remember it simply didn’t exist before then. That’s right, nobody had the idea before then.

The British ‘ready to eat’ prepacked sandwich industry.

You really can’t fathom that a UK industry worth almost £8 billion a year, employing around 325,000 people, just wasn’t even thought of before that.

Before 1980 sandwiches were made of leftovers at home, or made in front of you, with curling up at the edges bread,  at a greasy spoon type cafe. 

But Marks and Spencers, the national most influence department store – especially back then- began selling simple sandwiches out on the food dept shop floor.
Nothing fancy or elaborate. Egg and cress, salmon and cucumber, basic white bread. 

Staff at the first few Marks and Spencers to sell the sandwiches say they thought it was a daft idea. But they did as Head Office asked and made the sandwiches.

They were an instant sell out.  And the next day and the next.  They couldnt keep up. More staff were employed. Whole buildings began to be ‘just for sandwich making’.

Now it is approx 3.5 billion sandwiches sold per year.
November 3rd is national Sandwich day. Its marked every year. And the business just keeps on growing.

American Franchise Greggs has taken a firm hold, now found in every town and service station.  Marks and Spencers sandwich is still a go to lunch for many, as is high street success Pret. But according to last years figures, Tesco outdoes all other suppliers- including Subway- and sells the most pre-packed sandwiches.

On the Menu

Heres something very interesting; of all those fancy fillings and specials you see on the shelf of your sandwich shop, there’s just five that make up over 75% of all sandwich sales.
Chicken, Cheese, bacon, egg and ham. We are nothing if not consistent. Bacon is current leader in the UK’s choice of top sandwich.

Of course during the pandemic the industry took a hit of almost £1.3 billion during the lockdowns. However recovery has been going really well and the take away pre-packed sandwich is rising again. 

Pret was down to a fifth of their usual footfall during the pandemic but helped themselves be concentrating on growing their delivery side which previously accounted for a mere 1% of their sales, and now makes up at least 20%. Greencore, the makers of sandwiches for places like Marks and Spencers, Co-op, Sainsbury’s and Tesco, have come back fighting after furloughing almost half their staff, they have now opened all their sites again and are sure of a reliable future. 

The workforce may be different but they say customers are largely buying what they did Pre-covid and confidence in safety and hygiene remains high. 

Latest Difficulties

Right now, like every single business we can think of the British sandwich industry is suffer from acute shortages across the food industry.  The latest figures from the British sandwich association show over 500,000 unfilled vacancies in the industry. The association tell us it’s a crisis already, never mind in the months to come.  Will the British sandwich industry survive?