Why Buns & Rolls Will Never Go Out of Fashion

Bakers are innovating with buns and rolls, piquing consumers’ interest with new flavors, shapes, and textures.

By Sharmila Rajah

It can be hard to explain in words the appeal of buttered rolls or a grilled bun. Ordinary and unfussy, buns and rolls are the foundation for an easy meal, defining backyard barbecues at summertime and year-end holiday gatherings. Buns—commonly available as round and small, in hand-sized forms—are the perfect vessels for many popular foods. Made with a combination of dough, butter, yeast, milk, and sugar, they are usually proofed with space between them that causes a crust to form around the bun. Some sweet buns are flavored with butter and sugar and contain fruit. Rolls, on the contrary, complement your meal, are used to soak up soup or sauce, or can be eaten plain as a snack; are unsweetened, typically proofed, and baked closer together. Flaky, soft, and buttery dinner rolls, for instance, can elevate a simple meal, making it just that bit fancier. Needless to say, flour selection is an important first step in the production of buns and rolls. The leader in this sub-category is King’s Hawaiian, renowned for their superior dinner rolls that are distinctively sweet. Ball Park® Buns & Rolls, of Bimbo Bakeries USA, is another major brand. 

The buns and rolls category continues to be one of the biggest drivers for the fresh bread industry. In the United States (U.S.) alone, buns and rolls hit USD5.12bn in sales last year, an increase of 11.2%—with dinner rolls recording a double-digit spike of 12.9%. The pandemic has had a significant impact on consumer preference but buns and rolls have remained firm favorites, relished for their more approachable and versatile quality than, say, a loaf of bread. Basic buns and rolls, and premium brioche products are filling up grocery aisles—comprising hamburger and hot dog buns, and other sandwich buns and dinner rolls made from yeast-leavened doughs. Brioche buns are one of the fastest-growing carriers; pretzel buns and rolls are also resonating with U.S. consumers. Britain, too, has had a long-standing relationship with buns and rolls. St Pierre is the country’s fastest-growing bakery brand, with sales more than doubling in the last year at 123%. 

The category is becoming increasingly competitive with new, innovative artisan brands entering the retail space. While freshly baked plain white rolls can be delightful, whole grain or seeded variations are better for us. Companies like Trader Joe’s deliver cross-cultural food experiences to supermarket shelves with their range of Pao d’Agua Portuguese ready-to-heat frozen rolls, giving consumers the chance to try less mainstream products.

Trends

Consumers, fresh off the pandemic, have discovered a new-found appreciation for better-for-you products rich in protein, fiber, and whole grain. They are now seeking bakery labels that denote authentic, clean, and natural to drive their dietary habits, resulting in more gluten-free options, plant-based products, and other specialty buns and rolls appearing in stores. Trends in sugar reduction remain an important touchpoint, particularly among younger consumers. Bakers have been seeing a spike not only in better-for-you products but also in the more indulgent varieties. Innova Market Insights tracked a 16% annual average growth in bun launches with at least one health or indulgence claim. 

Brioche as a trend is gaining traction, playing catch-up to the sourdough fad that fuelled the pandemic and home-baking. Traditionally, brioche is known for its glorious buttery flavor and tender crumb. St Pierre Bakery (U.S.) brings consumers Brioche Pretzel Rolls while Canyon Bakehouse’s Brioche-Style Sweet Rolls are made with 100% whole grains and carefully selected and sourced ingredients. Each roll carries two grams of protein, with no trans or saturated fats. 

La Brea Bakery has successfully reimagined the classic brioche bun to create the plant-based La Brea Bakery Brioche Bun, without compromising on taste and flavor. Food tech company BetterBrand launched The Better Bun—transforming the traditionally carb-heavy bun into the net carb equivalent of two apple slices, boasting four grams net carbs, 20 grams of protein, and no added sugar—as the ideal alternative. Meanwhile, the keto-friendly brand Seriously Low Carb has produced torpedo-shaped hotdog rolls: wheat-based rolls that offer just 1.3 grams of carbs per roll, with 12 grams of protein and 400% more fiber. 

You can read the rest of this article in the Fall issue of Asia Pacific Baker & Biscuit, which you can access by clicking here

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