• Dinner rolls and croissants gain ground
  • Breakfast sandwich inspirations
  • Elevated offerings like brioche resonate

On a roll

Dinner rolls and croissants offer bright spots of category growth.

Douglas J. Peckenpaugh, Group Editorial Director

The buns and rolls segment of fresh bread accounts for over $6.0 billion in annual retail sales, 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 judging by the increases seen in select segments of this vital area of fresh bread, the sandwich trend is still alive and well across the U.S.

Buns & Rolls


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Market data 
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 hamburger and hot dog buns, sales dropped for store brands by 11.4% to $717.8 million. Grupo Bimbo follows, up 3.6% to $636.0 million in sales. Other companies gaining ground in the segment include Flowers Foods, up 2.6% to $391.7 million, and Campbell Soup Co., owner of the Pepperidge Farm brand of buns and rolls, up 1.8% to $293.9 million.

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Source: IRI, Chicago, Total U.S. Multi-Outlet w/ C-Store (Supermarkets, Drugstores, Mass Market Retailers, Gas/C-Stores, Military Commissaries and Select Club & Dollar Retail Chains), Latest 52 Weeks Ending April 18, 2021.


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Source: IRI Market Advantage, Integrated Fresh,  Total U.S. - Multi Outlet w/ C-Store (Grocery, Drug, Mass Market, Convenience, Military and Select Club & Dollar Retailers), 52 Weeks Ending 03-20-22

Center store dinner rolls had a great year, up 8.6% to $1.1 billion. King’s Hawaiian leads the segment and saw growth of 13.0% to $674.9 million. Lewis Bakeries also gained significant ground, up 41.6 percent to $22.9 million.

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. But Wholesale Harvest also gained ground, up 15.9% to $24.1 million, as did ARYZTA (now Aspire Bakeries), up 29.6% to $14.2 million.

 Croissant products saw strong growth across the store. Perimeter traditional croissants grew 21.8% to $467.5 million. Top gainers include Rich Products Corp., up 109.1% to $2.9 million, and St Pierre Groupe (listed as Carr’s Food International by IRI), which grew its perimeter traditional croissant sales by 104.9%.

Center store traditional croissants grew 13.2% to $108.8 million. Notable gains in the segment came from Starbucks Coffee Co., up 90.6% to $9.9 million, and International Delights, up 39.2% to $8.4 million.

Looking back 
Elevated sandwich carriers like brioche have seen strong sales momentum over the past few years—beginning before the pandemic. And the popularity of foodservice 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. “Bimbo Bakehouse offers a traditional brioche bun, made with real eggs and butter to deliver a sweet, rich flavor.

Davis recommends brioche and other specialized buns and rolls for the morning daypart. “For foodservice operators looking to hop on the sandwich trend, Bimbo Bakehouse has a variety of ‘alternative’ breakfast bread suggestions that will instantly elevate any dish on the early bird menu, including the Brioche Bun and Potato bun from our specialty bun line,” she says.

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Courtesy of Lantmannen Unibake

“According to Datassential, buns have seen 35% penetration on breakfast menus in recent years,” says Davis. “Bimbo Bakehouse’s specialty buns, available for foodservice operators, are the perfect vehicle for popular breakfast sandwiches.” Datassential reports brioche has seen 21% growth on breakfast menus specifically in the past four years, she notes. “The sweet, buttery flavor of our Traditional Brioche Bun will seamlessly complement any bacon, egg, and cheese combo.”

 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. “Bakehouse’s Premium Potato Bun is a high-quality carrier with a slightly sweet flavor, which makes them the perfect pairing for any go-to breakfast sammie,” she suggests.

 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. Customers can savor the traditional pretzel flavor with an upscale twist using Bakehouse’s pretzel bun.”

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Courtesy of St Pierre Bakery

Retailers and foodservice operators increasingly seek unique products to offer consumers. “Much of our innovation efforts have been in developing bespoke breads tailored to customer requirements,” says Scott Rosenberg, director of marketing, Lantmännen Unibake USA, Inc., Lisle, IL. “However, over the past year we’ve also launched products to the general market, such as Luau Sandwich Roll.”

 In turbulent times, consumers looking for comfort and familiar flavors—but often with a touch of adventure. “Our Euro-Bake Luau Sandwich Roll provides that with an incredible pineapple-coconut aroma, but in a fun and unique pineapple-inspired shape,” says Rosenberg.

Looking forward 
New, versatile bun and roll products offer a high degree of user versatility. They can be used by consumers, in-store bakery (ISB) 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. “Bimbo Bakehouse has launched The Cheesecake Factory At Home™ Gourmet Brioche Hamburger Buns,” she says. “Made exclusively for home enjoyment, these buns are deliciously buttery and sweet, with a rich flavor. Available in brioche and wheat brioche varieties, these buns have a soft and light texture, which makes them perfect for burgers and hot sandwiches. These decadent burger buns are a game-changer and will elevate how consumers experience brioche.”

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.

“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.”

— Paul Baker, founder, St Pierre Bakery

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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.” He suggests St Pierre’s range of Brioche Burger Buns, Brioche Hot Dog Rolls, and Brioche Sliders all work well in sweet or savory dishes, which can really help broaden the appeal of a party platter.

“There are other factors to feed into this, too,” suggests Baker. “Platters offer flexibility for a range of guests with different appetites and are easily scalable for hosts. For consumers, they can deliver the ultimate personalized platter if they buy products individually and create their own, so operators have to offer added value. By using products that are already stocked, there’s no additional cost to the operator beyond resource,” he says. “But they can answer to shoppers looking for premium, unique, fresh food—all of which are drivers, particularly in the ISB.”

Another trend focuses on deli foodservice, says Baker. “Our products are perfectly placed, as a recognized brand and category leader, to boost supermarket sandwich programs. 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.” SF&WB

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