The Bottom Line:

  • Subcategories saw increases across the board
  • Consumers want premium dining experiences at home
  • Supply chain issues are continuing

As family and friends more frequently gather in person for parties, dinners, and other social settings, it follows that sales of buns and rolls might increase, because such baked items often are invited to the table. Backyard barbecues are prime territory for serving hamburgers and hot dogs, each nestled in their buns, to assembled guests; dinner rolls are a popular item to pass at holiday meals. With more gluten-free options, plant-based products, and other specialty buns and rolls appearing on shelves and in the perimeter, consumers dealing with dietary considerations have more reasons to celebrate.

Market data

According to data from Circana OmniMarket Integrated Fresh, Chicago, the 52 weeks ending March 26, 2023, center store buns and rolls hit $5.12 billion in sales, an increase of 11.2% over the previous 12-month period (perimeter buns and rolls also saw a double-digit increase, up 15.7% to $1 billion). All the center store buns and rolls subcategories enjoyed increases, as did all perimeter buns and rolls subcategories.

Center store hamburger and hot dog buns sales increased 11.9% to $3 billion. Private label items topped the list, with $816.9 in sales. Grupo Bimbo followed in a close second, with $809.9 million, then Flowers Foods (419.8 million). The biggest percentage increase in sales among ranked hamburger and hot dog brands in center store shelves was King’s Hawaiian, with a 28.7% increase bringing its figure to $70.3 million.

Dinner rolls in the center store also had a double-digit increase (12.9%), bringing sales in the subcategory to $1.2 billion. King’s Hawaiian repeated its position atop the list of subcategory performers, with an increase of 17.9% over last year, bringing its sales to $796.5 million. Most brands in that column saw increases, with some exceptions. Flowers Foods had the subcategory’s biggest percentage increase, with sales rising by $24.7% to $28.6 million. Perimeter dinner rolls increased 17.9% to $313.9 million. Leaders in that subcategory included private label, Wholesome Harvest, and Brynwood Partners.

Source: Circana OmniMarket™ Total Store View | Geography : Total US - Multi Outlet w/ C-Store (Grocery, Drug, Mass Market, Convenience, Military and Select Club & Dollar Retailers) | Time : Latest 52 Weeks Ending 03-26-23

Center store specialty rolls climbed by a notable 38.9%, to $74.2 million. Subcategory leader Grupo Bimbo increased by 110.1%, to $31.8 million; second-place performer was private label with $20.96 million (up 20.3%), followed by Bakery LLC ($3.0 million, a decrease of 10.9% over the previous year. Perimeter specialty rolls hit $166.2 million, up 20.2% over the previous 12-month period. The biggest percentage increase in the subcategory was 51.9%; that climber was Chef Ness, who hit $218.8 million in sales.

Looking back

Brie Buenning, director of marketing with director of marketing, La Brea Bakery, says over the past year, bun and roll producers had many obstacles to reckon with.

“The impacts on the supply chain—from the wheat farmers affected in Ukraine to the challenges we are now seeing with sugar and cocoa producers—put pressure on ingredient prices,” she says. “Additionally, due to inflation across the country, consumers shifted in their shopping habits, trading down to private label brands at the grocery store more often than before and eating out less.”

At the top of the period, producers like La Brea Bakery projected a decline in the buns and rolls sales, eyeing inflation and price increases as mitigating factors. However, Buenning reports, consumers shopping the category delivered a pleasant surprise.

“Sales have been strong thanks to the shift in customers shopping the supermarket perimeter and looking for an elevated artisan bread experience, which is our specialty,” she remarks.

One trait consumers increasingly have sought out in their buns and rolls, according to Neil Pittman, (U.S. sales director for St Pierre Bakery), is a high degree of quality, balanced with affordability.

“The trend for premiumization is here to stay,” Pittman declares. “Previously, shoppers were elevating their meals at home because they couldn’t travel or dine out in the pandemic. Now that the cost of living is on the up, consumers are still looking to treat themselves well at home.”

“Despite the challenges, or maybe because of them, consumers are looking to recreate an elevated dining experience at home,” concurs Buenning, “which has brought an increase of purchases in the supermarket perimeter, inclusive of the in-store bakery.”

Hawaiian Sweet Rolls

Courtesy of Flowers Foods

The Hawaiian subcategory of buns and rolls, which add a touch of sweetness to the bread, saw a number of introductions. Flowers Foods’ Wonder brand recently brand introduced a Hawaiian bun. Additionally, Canyon Bakehouse, a Flowers Foods brand specializing in gluten-free baked goods, added Hawaiian Sweet Rolls, a pull-apart product, to its roster last fall.

“While Hawaiian rolls have been increasingly popular in the specialty bread category, gluten-free options were noticeably absent prior to this introduction,” reports Dan Letchinger, senior vice president for growth brands with Flowers Foods. “Our brand legacy is built around inclusion and giving people back the sense of normalcy when it comes to eating bread. Something as simple as a dinner roll can have a tremendous impact when it lives up to the expectations of great taste, wholesomeness, and high-quality ingredients.”

Looking forward

“I am very optimistic about the buns and rolls category,” shares Buenning. “Consumer demand is continuing to increase and there is more room to grow in the space.”

Producers in the category will continue to look for product launches that draw upon consumer insights to help ensure their chances of success.

Nature's Own Artisan Hamburger Buns

Courtesy of Flowers Foods

“We invest heavily in research and development to ensure that product innovation is informed by insight and launched with the best positioning to ensure success,” says Pittman. “This summer, St Pierre will launch Brioche Pretzel Rolls. Pretzel rolls have grown phenomenally over the past two years and in the same way our brand offers a premium upgrade to a burger bun, so our Brioche Pretzel Roll is set to do the same thing.”

Pittman reports that brioche and other premium-feel bakery products are likely a good bet for those looking to entice consumers going forward.

“St Pierre offers authentic brioche products, in the form of American bakery staples, which means for consumers who are continuing to look for ways to treat themselves well at home, we offer an easy way to elevate a barbecue,” he continues. “This is a key consideration for retailers looking to drive growth in buns and rolls.”

Buenning advises that in addition to seeking out premiumization of their buns and rolls, consumers likely will continue to draw inspiration from “cross-cultural” food experiences, and to get in touch with their own heritage through food, with culinary television programs as one source of inspiration. “Stanley Tucci’s Searching for Italy, and Eva Longoria’s Searching for Mexico, along with other ethnic-centric food shows, are driving consumers to learn more about the ingredients and recipes that are native to their own culture and inspiring them to create them in their own kitchens,” she observes. “As inflation unfortunately is going to loom over us for a little while longer, we will continue to see consumers looking for premium items at the grocery store and re-creating that restaurant experience at home.


Wonder Hawaiian Buns

La Brea Bakery Plant-Based Brioche Buns

Canyon Bakehouse Gluten-Free Hawaiian Sweet Rolls

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