Home Career My 14th Annual Cost Review of 10 Popular Brown Bag Sandwiches

My 14th Annual Cost Review of 10 Popular Brown Bag Sandwiches


If you’re like most people, you’ve had a hard time ignoring the increase in your monthly grocery bill over the past year. I guess that’s to be expected, since the latest “official” rate of inflation, as measured by the CPI, was a staggering 9.1% last month. Not only is this a four-decade high, but it is also significantly lower than the original methodology used to measure price growth in 1980.

Meanwhile, the approximate cost of school lunch this year is 3.93 USD. For a family with two children, that’s $1,414 for a 180-day school year.

Oh, of course; $3.93 for lunch may seem like a lot, but it’s true regardless ever-increasing grocery billspeople who choose a sandwich, a piece of fruit and carrot sticks, or a portion of chips will always spend less than people who buy lunch at a restaurant, school cafeteria, or fast food.

On the other hand, no everything sandwiches are created the same way, as celebrity chef Martin Blunos demonstrated a few years ago with his decadent Sarni with cheese for $184. The good news is that food prices there is rising faster than ever, the results of my 14th annual Brown Bag Sandwich Price Study show that in 2022, most people will be spending much less than they have been.

How the survey was conducted

As usual, I visited the local grocery store and recorded the cost per serving of the various ingredients for the ten most common brown bag sandwiches: Peanut Butter and Jelly (PB&J); Bologna; tuna; ham & swiss; roast beef and cheddar; egg salad; salami; American cheese; turkey; and Bacon, Lettuce and Tomato (BLT).

For consistency, I only selected the items with the cheapest unit costs, regardless of brand. And to keep things simple, I also assumed that all the sandwiches would be made from whole wheat bread.

Survey results

Here are the results of this year’s price study, which was conducted on July 29, 2022. The first chart shows the sandwich’s serving size and cost per serving for each ingredient. It also includes the percentage increase or decrease in price per serving of each item from last year’s survey:

With this data in hand and with use my handy tabledetermining the most economical sandwiches will not be difficult at all.

Here is Len Penzo dot Com’s official ranking of the ten most common brown bag sandwiches in 2022. The ranking is based on the total cost per unit of the ingredients, from least to most expensive.

As you can see, the 45 cent PB&J has the honor of being the most economical sandwich in 2022.

By the way, you might be surprised to know that this is only the second time that PB&J has won the undisputed title of the most economical sandwich since the poll began in 2009. So does PB&J, though general honor on four previous occasions.

The results of this year’s survey also ended a nine-year streak in which Bologna topped or tied for the least expensive sandwiches. Even more impressively, this is only the second time in 14 years that Bologna has failed to retain at least a share of the Most Economical Sandwich crown.

As for the rest of this year’s rankings, the only other positional changes came at the bottom of the list, where roast beef and cheddar swapped places with tuna salad.

The following chart is a year-over-year comparison of each sandwich since my first survey in 2009. This year, every sandwich in the survey except ham and swiss saw a price increase compared to last year.

In 2010, the average price of all ten sandwiches in my survey fell two cents from the previous year to 84 cents, an all-time low. This year, the average price of ten sandwiches in the survey is $1.43, which is the highest in the entire time of the survey; it’s also up 27% from last year and up 42% from 2018. Ouch.

Tips and observations

  • Like last year, five of the sandwiches in this year’s survey cost less than a buck; that’s down from seven in 2018.
  • After holding steady in 2020, the price of bread rose 8% in 2021 to $1.39 and then another 7% in 2022 to $1.49. The last time a loaf was more expensive was in 2014, when it cost $1.99.
  • Only four of the sandwich’s 18 ingredients are down in price from last year; it was ham, turkey, tomatoes and mustard.
  • Not all cheeses are created equal: American and Cheddar prices remained stable, while Swiss cheese rose 24%. Over the past two years, Swiss cheese has risen in price by more than 50%.
  • After hitting an all-time low in the survey two years ago, the price of a roast beef and cheddar sandwich is up 57%, including 17% this year.
  • If you’re a tuna fan, you might be disappointed to learn that the sandwich has never been more expensive. In fact, with the price of albacore tuna nearly doubling in 2022 and mayonnaise prices rising by nearly a third, a tuna salad sandwich is now 83% more expensive than it was last year.
  • At just 72 cents and 99 cents, respectively, the Turkey & Swiss and Egg Salad are still among the more economical brown bag options.
  • After two years of falling prices, BLT is up 29% this year to $3.42 — nearly 50 cents above its five-year average. The good news is that it’s also 57 cents less than a Big Mac.
  • Cooking and cutting your own ham and turkey is a great way to cut down on your grocery bill. It is also cheaper to buy cheese in blocks and cut it at home.
  • If you’re like me and love putting tomatoes on your sandwich, grow your own– you’ll save a bunch. Best of all, they taste so much better than anything you can buy at the grocer.
  • You can save more than 40% by purchasing products in store. How popular is mine blind taste tests have proven their quality is often just as good – if not better.

Photo credit: neil russo

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