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“Sandwiches Unwrapped” Survey and public poll 2022

News | Published  22 June 2022

Food service and food retail greatly influence how we shop and what we eat and holding them to account is key to shifting the dial to get us all eating better. Using the sandwich sector as a proxy, Eating Better tracked and benchmarked retailer commitment to sustainable eating by examining changes in their sandwich offer. Our new report “Sandwiches Unwrapped 2022” looks at changes in vegetarian and plant-based sandwich ranges against meat-based ones.

Food Retail /Food Service

Working with Oxford University’s foodDB team, we surveyed 430 sandwiches in 14 different food retail and food service outlets in the UK (including the Big Four - Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury’s and Morrisons) during February 2022.  

We found that since our last Sandwich Survey in 2019, the sandwich aisle is still too meaty and plant-based offers too pricey.  

Key findings: 

  • 84% of sandwiches contained meat, fish or cheese, a drop of only 1% on our last sandwich survey three years ago.
  • Meat is the main ingredient in 59% of the sample we surveyed. Of those 38% contain red or processed meat and 28% contain chicken. 
  • More than 50% of sandwiches, with high salt or high fat levels, contain meat.
  • Tesco has reduced its plant-based sandwich offer by 28% on 2019 figures, whilst Morrisons and Asda have dropped their plant-based sandwich options entirely.
  • On average, plant-based options are the most expensive sandwich type, making the most sustainable option less accessible, and particularly so in a cost of living crisis. 
  • Sainsbury’s plant-based offer is 15% more expensive than its meat offer.

We also found that the sector’s decreased across the board since our 2019 survey, shrinking by more than 50% at some outlets, which may be due in part to the sector still trying to recover post-pandemic.  Food service is now out performing food retail, in terms of providing more sustainable offers, with 34% of their sandwiches meat-free and half of this is plant-based, e.g Pret - only 42% meat of its range is meat, meeting our Better By Half roadmap ask of having no more than 50% of the range meat-based.

 Executive Director at Eating Better, Simon Billing said: 

Three years on from our last sandwich survey, and with yet more evidence from climate scientists on the need to reduce our meat consumption, it’s deeply disappointing that the sandwich aisle is still too meaty and that plant-based is too pricey.’ 

“Companies make commitments to tackle climate change and promote healthy eating, but our survey shows they’re still not doing enough to support affordable, sustainable diets. And even though there’s been a big leap in alternative protein fillings, it’s been at the expense of dropping veggie sandwiches. Our poll shows they’re still a popular choice.”

“If we’re to stand any chance of tackling the climate, nature and health crisis we need to be eating a lot less meat and dairy and a lot more affordable and nutritious plant-based foods. A better balance would be meat fillings making up no more than 50% of all sandwich ranges.”   

Anna Taylor OBE, Executive Director at Food Foundation said:

“Eating Better’s sandwich survey highlights the need for reformulation of convenience foods to contain less meat and more veg to improve outcomes for our health and the environment. The lack of affordability of plant-based options is a serious barrier to people transitioning to healthier and more sustainable diets. If people are going to reduce their meat consumption, alternative options need to be the most convenient and affordable for everyone.”

Annette Mansell-Green, Director of Trade Union and Public Affairs, British Dietetic Association said:  

“We want to see retailers as partners in public health so that affordable, convenient options are available to consumers and they can achieve balance in their diets easily. It’s crucial that a range of options are available as we know that upping our intakes of plant-based foods is a great way to get beneficial nutrients across the day, as well as reducing our climate impact.”  

Eating Better regularly takes the temperature on where people are on the journey to sustainable eating. To support “Sandwiches Unwrapped 2022,” we also carried out a public poll. 

On sandwiches we found: 

  • 94% of people eat sandwiches for lunch
  • 64% of people buy lunch to go at least once a week. 
  • Nearly half of people eat vegetarian or vegan sandwiches
  • Price is the biggest priority for people when choosing to buy sandwiches.
  • Over a third of people want sandwiches to be healthy

Despite the Government’s reluctance to tell people to eat less meat and dairy in the recently published Food Strategy, our poll reveals that more than 60% of people are willing to cut back, citing cost and health as the main drivers to change. The analysis also highlights that people need more support to eat better, which goes against the Government's emphasis on “individual responsibility” when it comes to diets. 

Key findings: 

  • More than 60% of respondents are willing to consider eating less meat, of those nearly two thirds are aged 18-35.
  • Nearly a quarter are eating less meat than they were in 2020.
  • The trend towards a flexitarian diet continues with 16% of people only eating meat one or two days a week, that’s a 45% increase on 2020 figures. 
  • A fifth would give up meat for health reasons, while nearly a quarter would give up meat to save money. 
  • A quarter of those polled said more low, or no-meat options in supermarkets are needed to help them eat less meat. 
  • And over a third said better knowledge on how to cook without meat would be helpful. 

Simon Billing concluded:

The results of our poll, coming the week after the Food Strategy, show that despite the government’s reluctance to tackle our overconsumption of meat, the public have an appetite to eat less, with cost and health being the two main drivers of wanting to cut back. The survey also highlights that, across the board, people need help to eat less meat and supermarkets have a key role to play in making this happen. Beans, pulses and lentils are all fantastic, nutritious, versatile and cheap alternatives to meat and it’s where our diets should be heading to benefit: budgeting in a cost of living crisis, our own health and that of the environment.”

Eating Better polled 2311 individuals across the UK’s general population over the weekend of 11th/12th June 2022. Click here for the results from the Savanta survey.