In a sign of just how hard inflation has hit shoppers’ wallets in recent months, Sprouts Farmers Market’s otherwise unassuming $4.99 deli sandwiches have become a viral sensation on social media.
In a little over a month’s time, the #sproutssandwich hashtag on TikTok has garnered nearly 10 million views as shoppers share videos of their mealtime selections — oftentimes from their cars right after visiting a Sprouts store. The sandwiches, which are available as preset choices or made-to-order, are notable for their hefty size and for their generous helping of fresh ingredients, including bacon, avocado and provolone cheese.
One thrifty TikTok user noted that she likes to split the sandwich across two meals. Another broke open his sandwich, showing off its stack of ingredients for viewers. “They definitely do not shy away from stuffing this sandwich,” he said.
The viral trend surfaced in mid July and grew particularly intense later that month and into early August, said Jeff Nachreiner, Sprouts’ director of deli sales and merchandising. The craze has died down somewhat in recent weeks, but it has had a significant impact on sales. He said unit sales of the sandwiches have increased “double digits” since the viral trend began.
So what did Sprouts do to prepare its sandwiches for stardom and fan the flames of social media adoration?
Nothing, said Nachreiner, except to stay stocked up on ingredients.
“It's been kind of a grassroots thing,” he said, noting that the most popular selection is a signature sandwich that includes turkey, provolone, lettuce, mustard and red onion on multigrain bread. “The videos got people talking and it has just grown like wildfire from there.”
Sprouts’ deli sandwich program dates back several years. In 2020, the company set the price at $4.99, thinking that could help draw people to the department, but unaware of just how much that would prove out two years down the line.
Within the past year, Nachreiner and his team improved the quality of the bread, which includes sourdough, artisan roll and marble rye as options.
The fresh-made sandwiches are available at all Sprouts locations. At some stores, shoppers fill out an order form specifying their selections, and an associate makes the sandwich in the back-of-house area. Other stores feature a Subway-like sandwich bar where workers assemble each selection in front of the customer.
At a Sprouts store in the Seattle area, an island deli counter situated near the front of the store had an entire side dedicated to fresh-made sandwiches. The $4.99 selections include six bread options and eight protein options, including roast beef, ham and albacore tuna, along with several toppings. The department also advertised $4.99 ciabattas and wraps, and $5.99 “signature sandwiches” made with Boar’s Head meat.
A sign at the deli counter noted that shoppers can add chips and a bottled water to their order for $1 extra.
The sandwich surprise comes as Sprouts has deepened its investments in prepared foods, offering more grab-and-go as well as fresh-made options to compete with restaurants. At the Seattle store, a case in front of the deli counter included packaged meals like street tacos and a Thai peanut chicken flatbread kit, while a display of fresh sushi sat nearby.
Prepared foods is currently one of the fastest growing categories at Sprouts, Nachreiner said, and the company’s management is sizing up new opportunities in packaging, ingredients and other areas. The specialty grocer has reported underwhelming sales since the pandemic hit and is looking to improve its fortunes by offering better meal options, more niche products and a reinvigorated “selling culture” in its stores, CEO Jack Sinclair has said.
Grocers like Kroger and Albertsons, meanwhile, have noted that, with significantly more consumers now working from home than before the pandemic, they’re seeing a lot of consumers who are interested in grabbing a meal along with their groceries, and then taking it all home to eat.
Nachreiner said Sprouts’ culinary team is currently looking at ways to update the toppings available in the sandwich program. Currently, the company’s delis incorporate various seasonal sandwich ingredients each quarter.
The biggest benefit of the viral trend, he said, has been its ability to boost traffic to stores and introduce a lot of first-time shoppers to Sprouts.
“When you watch some of these videos, you see people like, ‘Hey, I've never been to Sprouts but I've heard about this sandwich. I'm gonna go in and check it out,’” he said. “It's really opening us up to a segment of customer that we didn't have before.”