Snacks: Rolling with the Punches

The closure of much of the world’s foodservice industry as Covid-19 ravaged the globe might, upon first glance, have been bad news for manufacturers of bread rolls and buns. Lockdown measures led to a drastic drop in demand for hamburger buns and hot dog rolls through foodservice channels as outlets such as fast food restaurants closed their doors, a situation which persisted throughout much of 2020 for many western economies.

by Jonathan Thomas

However, manufacturers within the sector have risen to the challenge and are actively responding to new opportunities emerging. These range from increased demand for healthier products or varieties inspired by street food cuisine to consumers seeking to replicate restaurant meals in the home. 

The Impact of Covid-19

Like other sectors of the bakery goods industry, the rolls and buns sector experienced an upturn in retail sales across much of the world with the arrival of the Covid-19 pandemic. As lockdown closed much of the global foodservice industry, the number of in-home eating occasions grew, while consumers were also able to spend more time planning and cooking meals – as an example, breakfasts became less rushed affairs for many households with schools and workplaces closed, thereby aiding demand for baked goods such as bread and morning rolls. 

According to data from Kantar, UK sales of bread rolls increased by almost 28% in the four weeks ending March 22, 2020, reaching over GBP27m. However, this must be measured against falling consumption of bread rolls baked in-store – during the same period, sales within this sector declined by 4% in volume terms, due to the closure of many in-store bakeries. 

The warm spring weather experienced in the UK during 2020 also boosted demand for products such as burger buns and hot dog rolls, as people were more inclined to have outdoor barbecues in their gardens – even though lockdown laws prevented gatherings with friends and family. The closure of many foodservice outlets also led to some bakery manufacturers redirecting their ranges to the retail grocery sector to make up for the drop in demand from pubs, hotels and restaurants. One example was Lantmännen Unibake, whose Americana range of frozen bakery goods had previously been supplied mainly to foodservice customers. The Americana range includes seeded and brioche burger buns, hot dog rolls, floured baps and deli rolls, which are manufactured at a specialist facility in Milton Keynes. According to the company, a unique sponge and dough method is used during the baking process, which results in a distinctive flavor and texture. 

Another noteworthy trend, which emerged during the Covid-19 pandemic, was more consumers attempting to recreate popular dishes associated with foodservice outlets within the home. This increased demand for various types of burger buns and other similar products in markets such as the UK and Australia. To tap into this trend, retailer Iceland Foods brought back its popular Triple Burger Bun, enabling consumers to recreate a Big Mac from McDonalds in the home. Costing 69p for a two-pack, these seed-topped brioche buns were described as an ideal fit for two burger patties. 

On a similar note, some foodservice operators have begun to offer specialist burger kits enabling consumers to replicate the restaurant experience more fully in the home. As an example, Honest Burgers in Liverpool now sells a burger kit costing GBP30 (including delivery). This contains burger patties, Cheddar cheese slices, smoked bacon rashers and burger buns from The Bread Factory, which describes itself as one of London’s leading artisanal bakers. Its range includes various types of rolls and burger buns, some of which are suitable for vegan or gluten-free consumers. 
At the time of lockdown, it was also suggested that people spending less time going out would take up home baking in countries such as the UK. During 2020, a survey of 2,000 adults by KitchenAid found that 23% of avid home bakers had increased their repertoire during lockdown, eager to try out new products. Amongst the top 50 products baked during this time were cinnamon buns and iced buns, at 27th and 37th position respectively.

You can read the rest of this article in the March/April Issue of European Baker & Biscuit magazine, which you can access by clicking here

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