If our local high school decides to open its doors this year, the completely unappetizing daily lunch will be $3.75. For a family with two kids, that amounts to $1350 during the course of a 180-day school year.
Oh, sure; $3.75 for lunch may sound like a great deal, but the truth is, despite those ever-rising grocery bills, people who choose to brown-bag a sandwich, piece of fruit, and carrot sticks or a serving of chips, are always going to spend less than the folks who buy their lunch at a restaurant, school cafeteria or fast-food joint.
On the other hand, not all sandwiches are created equally, as celebrity chef Martin Blunos demonstrated a few years ago with his decadent $184 cheese sarnie.
The good news is, the results of my 12th annual brown bag sandwich price survey show that most folks will spend far less than that in 2020.
How the Survey Was Conducted
As usual, I visited my local grocery store and recorded the per-serving costs of various ingredients for ten of the most common brown bag sandwiches: peanut butter & jelly (PB&J); bologna; tuna; ham & Swiss; roast beef & cheddar; egg salad; salami; American cheese; turkey; and bacon, lettuce & tomato (BLT).
For consistency, I only selected items with the cheapest per unit costs, regardless of brand. And to keep it simple, I also assumed all sandwiches would be made with wheat bread.
Here are the results of this year’s price survey, which was conducted on August 6th, 2020. The first graphic shows the sandwich serving sizes and per-serving costs for each ingredient. It also includes the percentage increase or decrease in the per-serving price of each item from last year’s survey:
With that data in hand, and using my handy spreadsheet, it’s no effort at all to determine the most economical sandwiches.
Here are the official Len Penzo dot Com rankings of the ten most common brown bag sandwiches in 2020. Rankings are based upon total ingredient unit costs, from least to most expensive.
As you can see, at 34 cents, bologna has the honor of being the most economical sandwich in 2020. Bologna has now topped the list for eight consecutive years; although there were two years in that run where it shared the top spot with PB&J.
Overall, bologna has now topped the list eight times; and shared the top spot with PB&J another three times. In fact, the only time bologna failed to occupy the top spot was back in 2012, when it ranked second, behind PB&J.
As for the rest of the 2020 rankings, the only positional changes occurred near the bottom of the list — Roast Beef & Cheddar climbed two notches to rank seventh, while both the Salami and Tuna Salad sandwiches each fell one spot, to the eighth and ninth positions, respectively.
The next chart is an annual comparison of each sandwich since my inaugural survey in 2009. This year, seven of the ten sandwiches in the survey experienced a price increase. Somewhat ironically, it was the two most expensive sandwiches from last year — Roast Beef & Cheddar and the BLT — that saw a price decline from 2019.
In 2010, the average price of all ten sandwiches in my survey fell two cents from the year before to 84 cents — that was the all-time low. This year, the average cost of the survey’s sandwiches is $1.06; that’s 6% higher than last year and a 13% increase over two years.
Tips and Observations
- Five sandwiches in this year’s survey cost less than $1; that’s down from six last year, and seven in 2018.
- After climbing 30% in 2019, the price of bread held steady — but it’s still at its highest level since 2016.
- Just five of the 18 sandwich ingredients saw price declines this year: roast beef, cheddar cheese, tomatoes, lettuce and mustard.
- Despite a 14% increase in the price of peanut butter, the cost of a PB&J sandwich is still a bargain at 44 cents — although that’s its highest price since 2015, when it reached its all-time high of 51 cents.
- While the cost of both American and Swiss cheese climbed 31% and 25%, respectively, the price of Cheddar cheese dropped 27%. Go figure.
- Thanks to a big drop in the cost of its star ingredients, the price tag for Roast Beef & Cheddar sandwich is $1.24 — that’s an all-time low.
- If you’re the type who is hooked on tuna, you’ll be happy to know that the cost of a tuna salad sandwich has plunged 42% since 2016.
- At just 71 cents a sandwich, egg salad is still one of the more economical brown bag options.
- At 68 cents, Turkey & Swiss is still one of the most economical sandwiches this year, despite a 75% increase in the price of sliced turkey.
- After falling 17% in 2019, the price of mustard dropped another 20% this year.
- The price of a BLT fell 10% this year to $2.86 — that’s just a penny more than its five-year average. It’s also $1.13 less than a Big Mac.
- Cooking your own ham and turkey and slicing it yourself is a great way to reduce your grocery bill. It’s also cheaper to buy block cheese and slice it at home.
- If you’re like me and love to put tomatoes on a sandwich, grow your own— you’ll save a bundle. Best of all, they taste much better than anything you can buy from your grocer.
- You can save upwards of 40% by purchasing store-brand products. As my popular blind taste tests have proven, their quality is often just as good — if not better.
Photo Credit: neil russo