Supermarket sandwiches are staggeringly popular but you rarely see them tested and rated. We fill a basket and go deep into the nation's favourite: chicken & bacon.
Britain eats a staggering 3.25bn bought sandwiches each year. There is no getting away from them. You might self-identify as a foodie, be picky about what you eat, have a visceral suspicion of pre-packed, factory food, but in 2014, if you also live in the real world, then you will inevitably have a favourite, emergency go-to sandwich. Yet, despite the way that the takeaway sandwich has asserted itself in our lives, we rarely talk about this £6.5bn industry, and one its biggest players, the supermarkets.
Going where other food blogs are far too refined to tread, we decided to put together what may be the most useful taste-test Word of Mouth has ever conducted: a face-off of the UK's biggest-selling supermarket sandwich variety. Except, we couldn't quite do that, as the top seller nationally is that indecisive cop-out, the triple-pack. So we went for the single best-selling flavour, instead, chicken and bacon. Yes, chicken ... and ... bacon. Weird, right? But not as strange as some of the regional variations in the stats from the British Sandwich Association, which is currently gearing up for May's Sandwich Week 2014.
If you ever needed confirmation that the south-west is a different world, then get this: one in four sandwiches sold in Devon and Cornwall is prawn mayo. In most regions, the top five flavours account for around 5-7% of total sales each. Yet, in Exeter and Newquay, prawn racks up a whopping 25%. There is something – wait for it! - fishy going on down there.
Elsewhere, that the north-east loves chicken salad (its runaway number one), should make those who characterise the Newcastle diet as all pints and Gregg's pasties, pause for thought. Certainly in sandwich terms, the Geordies are health freaks. Meanwhile, southern-fried chicken appearing as a top five filling in Lancashire is as bemusing as salmon and soft cheese making the south of England list is predictable. We always knew southerners were posh, right?
But enough of this balsa-light regional banter and down to business. Which supermarket sells Britain's best chicken and bacon sandwich?
Roast chicken & bacon, Waitrose, £2.60
Note that word, "roast", and the background hum of Dijon mayonnaise. This, Waitrose would have you believe, is the sophisticate's sandwich. If only. That bacon has a rounded, naturally smoked flavour. But that is all you can taste and it's not that assertive. Chopped rather than sliced chicken (despite constituting a creditable 24% of the sandwich), means the bread is not evenly covered and it needs far more mayo. This is an unusually dry, hard-going mouthful. 4/10
Chicken & bacon, Tesco, £1.50
"Lovingly crafted and BIG on flavour," announces the packaging, sarcastically. The blitzed, mayo-bound filling is like jarred sandwich paste: gooey, curiously granular, a beige slop laced with tiny pink shards of irrelevant sweetcure bacon (just 5% of the total ingredients). Sandwiched between parsimoniously thin bread, it tastes of almost nothing. Cheap but far from cheerful. 2/10
WINNER! Chicken & bacon, Co-Operative, £2.80
This features not smoked bacon but "smoke flavour" bacon, which tastes as artificial as it sounds: like bacon that has been aerosol-sprayed with, rather than hung in, smoke. But in a pre-packed sandwich, perhaps you need the punchy, upfront flavour that, at this price, only ingenious lab technicians and industrial food processing can deliver. Generously if unevenly filled with that intensely sweet, robustly not-smoked bacon (think: Frazzles) and notably tasty slices of chicken breast (a winning 27% of the ingredients!), this is the one sandwich that offers genuine, unfolding layers of flavour. Finally, some good news for the Co-Op. 8/10
Chicken & bacon salad, Sainsbury's, £2.80
Is concentrating a skimpy filling in the middle of the sandwich a professional technique, so that, end-on, it appears fat and fulsome? You could easily pinch this butty's empty ends together, its filling falling well shy of the crust. Lightweight if buttered bread; a laughable, drab "salad" of a few lettuce leaves; and bacon so meek you would struggle to identify it as smoked, complete a sandwich which, while its sliced chicken gives it a better texture than Tesco's version, is equally flavour-deficient. 3/10
Chicken & bacon, M&S, £2.80
Bread feels pillowy and fresh; the thickly sliced chicken has a good, true flavour; and, while the bacon lacks any pronounced smokiness, it is persuasively flavourful and reassuringly meaty. M&S needs to dial-down the Dijon mustard and be more circumspect with the black pepper, though. After a few mouthfuls all you get is a lingering, fiery pep, rather than chicken and bacon. Still, at least this tastes of something. 7/ 10
Chicken & bacon, Asda, £2
Curiously plasticky bread is sparsely filled, with yawning gaps at the edges. The small bits and pieces of chicken are flavour neutral and, rowing back slightly from my new-found love for "smoke flavour" bacon, this Asda version is less natural and far harsher than the Co-Op's. It has a distinct burning rubber tang. An acquired taste, then. If not a dry one, thanks to a liberal dollop of mayo. 5/10
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