Handheld meals are convenient, sharable and fun!

It’s a primal instinct. Who among us doesn’t like to disregard the formality of forks and knives and just dig in with our fingers once in a while? We all do! And that’s because it’s just plain fun.

Today, handhelds are bigger than ever. Chefs love them because they’re the perfect meal or snack for breakfast, lunch and dinner regardless of the venue. “According to the NRA & NPD Group, 81% of operators report increased profits when theyoffer handheld items.”1

Eating with their hands allows food lovers to savor a true sensory experience. As consumers demand more handheld foods, restaurants continually need to find ways to change up their menus to include unique ones. In addition to the customers’ experience, handhelds allow chefs to showcase their creativity. Less training, space and equipment are needed, due to their simplicity, which also allow handhelds to be easily adapted for any daypart.

For full service, limited service and fast-casual restaurants, to coffee shops and catering, handhelds are versatile, easy to make and ready to enjoy. Visit Smithfield CulinaryHandsOn.com for handheld recipe inspiration.

Today’s Hottest Trends in Handhelds


Appetizers are the fun and sharable small plate classic that is more often than not also a handheld meal. Some of the more popular ones that have shown growth:2

WINGS – on 44% of menus & still seeing growth
PORK “WINGS” – up 25% on menus over 4 years
RIBS – on 20%+ of menus
Hint: Make ribs even more handheld-friendly by pulling the meat down the bone a bit and exposing a “handle”.

Today’s Hottest Trends in Handhelds (Cont’d)


Sandwiches are so popular with consumers that Technomic reports that an amazing 37% say they dine on them more than once a week.Below are some interesting developments currently regarding sandwiches.3


52% of consumers are very likely to try a new or unique sauce on a sandwich,3 which opens the door for chefs to experiment with new sauces. What’s more, housemade or signature condiments offer the ability to be unique and convey freshness. This fact is not lost on consumers, especially millennials, 52% of whom indicate they would order an item if it comes with an original sauce.3


Operators continue to rely on breads to drive craveability, showcase uniqueness and justify a premium price point. Ethnic specialty breads like roti, paratha and naan are becoming more commonplace on menus. Even simply housemade breads are trending, as these options add an element of uniqueness.4


Meats such as capicola and Genoa salami are growing on lunch and dinner sandwich menus, with capicola +36% on menus, and Genoa salami +6.7% on menus over 2 years from 2015-2017.5


Many operators are utilizing “outside-the-box breads” to create a curiosity factor. These include sweet and indulgent carriers, like donuts, croissants, biscuits and more.


With a preference for pizza that is authentic, typically regional, e.g. Chicago, Naples, New York, etc., 57% of 18- to 34-year-olds eat pizza at least weekly.6
Pork toppings are some of the favorite pizza toppings:6













What Is Trending in Pizza?

  • While pizza is typically seen as a dinner dish, operators can vary the ingredients for breakfast or lunch (sometimes even dessert)
  • Nontraditional crusts, like cauliflower, are becoming more popular
  • Unique Toppings: Gruyère, dill, vinegar, lemon, peanut, sea salt, applewood, chocolate & pear

Global Flavors

Eaters are becoming more adventurous as restaurants are continuing to offer more unique handhelds, with many growing very quickly in the past four years. These include:6
+250% Kati Rolls – an Indian kebab wrapped in a paratha bread
+69% Bánh Mì – a Vietnamese sandwich on a French baguette
+50% Pepito – very similar to a Mexican torta “sandwich,” commonly found in Spain and Latin America
+49% Cemita – a popular “brioche” sandwich from Puebla, Mexico
+37% Doner/Shawarma – a vertical rotisserie with lamb, beef or chicken, popular in the Middle East
+31% Arepa – popular in Venezuela and Colombia, an open-faced sandwich made of corn flour

Country-by-Country Breakdown of Popular Handhelds6

Mexico: Torta, Burrito, Taco, Quesadilla, Cemita, Tamale
Italian: Bruschetta, Calzone
Vietnam: Bánh Mì, Bánh Xèo
Middle Eastern: Doner, Shawarma, Kebab
Spanish: Pepito
Latin America: Arepa, Empanada, Pupusa
Southeast Asia: Lumpia, Egg Roll, Satay, Empanada, Bao, Roujiamo
South Asia, India: Kati Roll, Paratha, Naan, Samosas, Pakora, Roti, Chapati

Handheld Menu Highlights

Ba Le, Chicago, IL
Features Vietnamese Bánh Mì sandwiches with mayo, pickled daikon, carrot, onion, cilantro, and jalapeño and topped with any combination of pork cuts, e.g., headcheese, pate, ham, belly.
Empanada City, Brooklyn, NY
Features a Cuban Empanada: filled with pernil (slow-roasted pork leg/shoulder), ham and Swiss cheese.

1. NRA and NPD Group
2. Datassential
3. Flavor CTR, 2017
4. Sandwich CTR, 2018
5. Technomic
6. Datassential

To discover what Smithfield Culinary can do to satisfy the handheld cravings of your customers while building business for you, contact a Smithfield Culinary sales representative or call 888-327-6526.