The buns and rolls segment of fresh bread accounts for over $6 billion in annual retail sales in the USA, per IRI, Chicago. This sandwich-heavy segment comprises hamburger and hot dog buns, but also other sandwich buns, dinner rolls, and traditional croissants. The coronavirus pandemic catalyzed an increase in sandwich activity across America. And the sandwich trend is still alive and well across the U.S, according to data analyzed and released by Snack and Bakery magazine.
According to IRI, Chicago, for the 52 weeks ending March 20, 2022, center store buns and rolls saw a slight increase, up +0.1% to $4.6 billion in dollar sales. While private label leads center store hamburgers and hot dog buns, sales dropped for store brands by 11.4% to $717.8 million. Center store dinner rolls had a great year, up 8.6% to $1.1 billion.
Perimeter dinner rolls also performed similarly well, up 8.6% to $266.1 million. Private label leads the charge, up 8.5% to $208.6 million. Croissant products saw strong growth across the store. Perimeter traditional croissants grew 21.8% to $467.5 million. Center store traditional croissants grew 13.2% to $108.8 million.
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Elevated sandwich carriers like brioche have seen strong sales momentum over the past few years – beginning before the pandemic. And the popularity of food service items like spicy chicken sandwiches plays directly into this trend.
“Brioche buns are one of the fastest-growing carriers for burgers and chicken sandwiches,” says Heather Davis, senior manager of customer insights, Bimbo Bakehouse, Horsham, PA. “Brioche has grown over 63% on menus in the past four years, reports Datassential,” she says.
Davis recommends brioche and other specialized buns and rolls for the morning daypart. “According to Datassential, buns have seen 35% penetration on breakfast menus in recent years,” says Davis. Datassential reports brioche has seen 21% growth on breakfast menus specifically in the past four years, she notes.
Potato buns also offer a different take on morning sandwiches. “With a rich flavor profile and substantial build and soft texture, potato buns have gained popularity on breakfast menus in recent years, according to Datassential,” says Davis.
Pretzel buns and rolls are also resonating with U.S. consumers—and gaining a point of differentiation helps attract attention. “According to Datassential, pretzel buns have seen 11% growth on menus in the past four years.”
Retailers and food service operators increasingly seek unique products to offer consumers. “Much of our innovation efforts have been in developing bespoke bread tailored to customer requirements,” says Scott Rosenberg, director of marketing, Lantmännen Unibake USA, Inc., Lisle, IL. In turbulent times, consumers looking for comfort and familiar flavors – but often with a touch of adventure.
New, versatile bun and roll products offer a high degree of user versatility. They can be used by consumers, in-store bakery managers, and foodservice operators throughout the day as sandwich carriers.
“Using upscale flavors and innovative ingredients help to set operators apart from the rest,” says Davis. “Utilizing brioche and potato – favorite flavors that continue to see growth – in new products can help foodservice businesses differentiate their sandwich offerings on the menu. Leaning into current trends is important to meet customers’ needs.”
Dhriti Batra, category marketing manager, Bimbo Bakehouse, points to opportunities to capitalize on the “elevated dining at home” trend that saw traction during the pandemic.
Many believe in-home entertaining occasions will continue to factor into purchase decisions – long after the wane of the pandemic. “At home socializing and entertaining is a trend that is here to stay and that means that deli prepared is having a real moment,” says Paul Baker, founder, St Pierre Bakery, Manchester, England. “Anything that saves people time and provides an easy – yet quality – meal solution will do well throughout the store,” he suggests.
Convenience still resonates. “As people return to old routines, they are once again time-poor – looking for quick solutions for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and everything in between – including more special occasions at home,” says Baker.
“The IDDBA ‘Covid-19 Impact Report’ from February this year demonstrated just how significant this growth is, with the ‘trays’ product group up more than 50% and ‘combo meals’ up 33% on last year,” says Baker. “The current cost-of-living crisis also means that people will continue to celebrate special occasions at home. The number of guests might also be on the up with pandemic restrictions relaxed. That means larger pack-sizes and pre-prepared will continue an upward trajectory.”
There are two key trends that retailers can pair with bun and roll products, suggests Baker. “The first is in pre-packaged party platters. After so long without entertaining, shoppers are keen to make at-home celebrations even more memorable, highlighting the need for a show-stopping platter,” he says. But those platters need enough variety in the platter to keep shoppers interested. A good balance of ‘new’ and ‘reliable’ is the right approach, says Baker. “Finding a bread carrier that can cater to savory and sweet items is key for retailers.”
Another trend focuses on deli food service. “Research has proven that consumers are willing to pay more for a gourmet burger bun or a recognized brand on a menu. Supermarket sandwich programs are aligned so closely with our own ambition to deliver a quality experience, which is why we’ve partnered with Kroger stores nationwide, collaborating on a chicken sandwich since last year,” Baker says.