Snacks - The fast show

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Bob Beatty
Bob Beatty
Your customers are looking for good food in a hurry. PubChef looks at how pubs can make the most of the snack market. It's not just pub chefs that...

Your customers are looking for good food in a hurry. PubChef looks at how pubs can make the most of the snack market.

It's not just pub chefs that are workaholics, with the average lunch break for most workers now just 27 minutes. The days of leisurely lunches down the pub are a thing of the past for most workers and pubs are now having to work harder to compete for lunchtime trade. But if you can get your offering and speed of service right, then there is still a big opportunity. Sandwiches are a simple and low-skilled option for most pubs and continue to be an extremely popular lunchtime snack, with three quarters of all adults in the UK eating them, according to Mintel research.

But as Trish Smith, marketing manager at Masterfoods Out of Home, says: "If pubs are to attract light lunchers and snackers, they need to offer sandwiches that are more exciting and appealing than their retail competitors."​ Innovative fillings such as those drawing on Far Eastern, Indian, Mexican and Italian flavours or unusual pairings will help your menu stand out. In fact, the popularity of ethnic food in general continues to grow and it is important to reflect this on your sandwich menu. So why not mix ready-to-use Indian and oriental sauces with traditional sandwich fillings.

Tilda recommends Thai hot beef salad rolls, lamb rogan josh toasted sandwiches and chicken jalfrezi kebabs served in mini naan breads. Masterfoods suggests sweet Thai chilli prawn baguette or sweet and sour crunch wraps, made with its Uncle Ben's culinary sauce. Hot fillings, low-fat options, different breads such as wraps, ciabatta, focaccia, paninis, bagels, and flavoured breads will also help add a point of difference. Chicken continues to be the most popular sandwich filling, followed by cheese. But Brian Baker, managing director of the Cheese Cellar Company, believes that publicans should be looking towards more luxury cheese sandwich fillings. He says: "Demand is rapidly increasingin line with more sophisticated palates for luxury combinations, such as goats cheese with onion confit on ciabatta - or a brie and grape panini."

As well as sandwiches, many pubs are now also putting all-day cheeseboards on their menu as a snack. Another idea, which is proving popular in some pubs, is promoting a shared offering for two people of a whole Camembert cheese with a crusty French stick, served with a beer or a glass of wine. Of course, with three million people on the Atkins' diet, there could be some bread dodgers among your customers. But Sara Lee has recently launched an Atkins' dietfriendly loaf. The key to success is also in the speed of service, and you may want to consider offering a pre-order service, where customers can call up or fax their order over on the day, specifying the time they will be in to collect.

But it is not simply lunchtimes where snack food is in demand. McCain has just launched Tapas UK, following research that showed there is a big profit opportunity for pubs between 4pm and 7pm. This is the time that young, urban customers want to unwind or catch up with friends before continuing their evening. Many customers at this time are looking for more than a bag of crisps, but not a full meal and the company believes its range of products, such as aromatic Thai corn and tortilla bites, served with sauces or speciality breads can fill that gap. And Westler Foods offers a range of Mexican snack food, called Casa Fiesta, which pub caterers can produce quickly and easily.

The range includes salsa, taco shells, nachos, sliced jalapenos, tortilla chips and tortilla wraps. Kitchen Range Foods' selection of combo products also provide a simple way of serving snacks at any time of the day. The company recently carried out research in which 60% of people questioned said they would buy a combo twice a month on average if they were available on the menu. David Young, head of marketing at the company, says: "Combos are ideal as fastserve items as they can be cooked and with the customer within five to 10 minutes and require limited cooking skills. The products therefore offer a menu solution that can be made available throughout the day and evening, even when the full menu serving time has ended."

Whatever you decide on in the end, though, good point-of-sale material and advertising is certainly essential in having a successful snacks menu, and if you don't shout about the fact that you can do food fast, then you may well lose that custom to somewhere that can, even if their offering is not as good.

Tips to be tops

Make your lunch menu too good to miss. By offering more varied hot and cold snacks. Snacking is normally associated with a bag of peanuts or crisps, but remember that most customers want to eat something that will sustain them, without filling them, until their larger evening meal.

Speed up your service. Many customers don't have long for lunch, so offer conveniencestyle items on your menu. Use products you can prepare, cook and serve quickly.

Offer more sandwiches. There is always a high demand for sandwiches, so take advantage of this natural market and offer a choice of speciality and Continental breads, bagels and wraps. With a universal choice of fillings, they can be served hot or cold.

Get healthy. Steer away from serving fatty, red-meat burgers or the classic side order of chips. Customers want to eat healthily and will appreciate low-in-fat snacks. Use low-fat mayonnaise and reduce those heaped sandwich fillings. Consider serving alternatives such as fish cakes with green salad, or marinated Quorn pieces on a bed of fresh baby spinach leaves, rocket and watercress, dressed with light vinaigrette.

Get sharing. Tempt parties of friends in for a lunchtime/early evening treat after a hard day at work. Get them mingling by serving a selection of tear-and-share dishes or finger food.

Stay ahead of your competition. Keep an eye on what your local sandwich bars and cafés are doing, as well as the other pubs in your area. Find out what they are doing and make sure you maintain a fresh and interesting menu board - ensure that patrons don't get tired of eating the same thing.

Weekday specials. Develop your menu offering by promoting offers such as "buy a salad and get a free soft drink"​. This will help maintain a regular flow of custom, even on traditionally quiet days such as Monday.

Source:​ Tony Davison, commercial manager foodservice, Marlow Foods

Come and do the combo​ Barracuda Group pub, the Old Library, in Oadby, near Leicester, trialled all-day combos over a four-week period. The outcome is that combos are now available in 50 Barracuda pubs. Customers at the Old Library choose from a selection of tempura vegetables, Cajun mushrooms, mozzarella and chilli sticks, crispy chicken goujons and potato skins. Manager Beryl Little says: "Once customers have ordered their food, they expect a quick turnaround. Combos help us deliver customer expectations, which potentially means we can expect repeat visits. "We are attracting more lunchtime and early-evening customers who are looking for a quick, satisfying bite, but [we] also see this as an opportunity [to cater] for our latenight trade who [usually] end up in fast-food outlets at closing time."

Snack ideas

Jus-Rol offers a range of filled pastries, which are ideal for pubs to offer on a snacks menu. Most of the products can be cooked from frozen in two minutes. The range includes sausage rolls, pizza sticks, veggie sticks, jumbo cheddar-puffs and Greek filo pastries. Pub chefs can also use the company's range of frozen prepared pastry to make their own snacks. For a selection of recipes visit

Bakehouse has redeveloped its vegetarian savoury pastry range. Its roasted vegetable plait, spinach and ricotta plait and triple cheese lattice have all been improved. They are ideal for serving as a hot or cold sna

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