Mass Market Sandwiches

A large part of why sandwiches have remained such an integral part of our day to day lives is due to how prevalent they are in our supermarkets, fast food chains, and local delicatessens. Entire aisles are devoted to pre-sliced deli meats and cheeses, and pre-sliced bread intended for sandwiches dominates the bakery section. Entire fortunes are made (and lost) in the world of fast-food hamburgers based largely upon the ability to scale production and delivery of sandwich components.

Freshness of ingredients is paramount for many customers, which means that time is the critical variable for these enormous supply lines that feed supermarkets like Safeway, fast-food joints like In-N-Out, and locally owned delis that aren't able to influence their entire supply chain. What you need to know about this process is that in order for you to go to the corner market to buy some pre-sliced wheat bread, bacon, lettuce and tomatoes for your delightful afternoon BLT, an entire system must exist to coordinate delivery of those goods.

I call this the Sandwich Component Logistics System. Through the scaling of this system, it is possible for an entire loaf of whole wheat bread from a bakery in Southern California, fresh sliced honey ham from a farm in Virginia, and for a package of pre-sliced cheddar cheese from Wisconsin to be available in a New York City supermarket at a cost to consumer around a $1 per sandwich. This system didn't develop overnight and it is a feat of modern supply chain management that has helped skyrocket the popularity of sandwiches worldwide. But nothing happens for one reason, and sandwiches are everywhere because they were chosen as an effective product for this system.

Everything about this is entirely due to the core philosophy that lies embedded in the sandwich, which is its nature as a scalable platform. Sandwiches are structures that are built, and every aspect of them is very measurable. The famous Big Mac from McDonalds is less a meal and more of a math problem from a production standpoint. After decades of feedback and testing, the exact beef to bread to sauce to vegetables ratio has been precisely determined and the process of delivering a Big Mac can often be completed in under a minute by someone with little experience. Platforms don't just output a single product however, and personalization is a critical service that sandwich providers offer their customers. As such, requesting a Big Mac with extra lettuce, no sauce, or even chicken patties instead of beef is a trivial process instead of an incommunicable mess.