Buns and rolls will never not be valued in the U.S.—whether you’re a carnivore, flexitarian, or vegetarian, you’re inevitably going to be eating a hamburger or perhaps veggie burger this summer. Producers, however, have started experimenting with different flavors, formats, and functions for the category.

Market data

The buns and rolls category, for the most part, has been showing modest growth, according to Circana (Chicago) data from the past 52 weeks, ending on March 24, 2024. The one anomaly is center store specialty rolls, which brought in $211.8 million and showed 39.7% in growth.

The bakery center store breads and rolls category took in $19.8 billion in sales, with a 4.9% increase. Center store buns and rolls, a subcategory, brought in $5.69 billion of that number, a nice 7.2% uptick. In the center store hamburger and hot dog buns subcategory ($3.28 billion, 7.1% increase), private label was the winner, with $974 million in sales, and an 11.5% increase, followed by Grupo Bimbo ($861.1 million, 5.5% increase) and Flowers Foods ($450.5 million, 7.1% increase).

The center store dinner rolls subcategory ($1.32 billion, up 9.5%) showed Kings Hawaiian at the top of the heap ($877.9 million, 11.1% increase), followed—but not closely—again by PL, with $167.3 million and 11.1% growth.

Other brands to note: United States Bakery, under center store specialty rolls, with a 127.9% climb in sales; private label, in all other center store buns and rolls, with a 77.5% upturn; Melones, under perimeter sandwich buns, with 330.4% growth; and last but not least, Peak Rock Capital, under all other perimeter buns and rolls, with a massive 529.7% increase in sales.

Looking back

Brie Buenning, director of marketing, La Brea Bakery, shares that buns and rolls have been a strong category within baked goods over the past few years. 

“Inflation over the past few years has contributed to the strong demand, and consumers making wallet-friendly choices in response to rising prices. They are ‘trading down’ from dining out, instead purchasing prepared meals from the grocery deli or c-store, and often choosing sandwiches for their portability,” she mentions. “Consumer purchases of buns and rolls in the ISB are up 12% compared to two years ago. This comes as no surprise, as we’ve seen increased demand for both individual and multipacks of buns and rolls.”

“On the foodservice side, most operators have renewed their attention to buns and rolls and are taking the opportunity to introduce bread-focused menu items. We have also seen an increase in operators promoting their use of La Brea Bakery breads as they aim to capture the consumer’s perception of value and quality,” she continues.

Jennifer Shaw, director of marketing and communications, Crown Bakeries, says snacking occasions are on the rise. 

“Consumers across all demographics are reaching for snack-sized portions of their favorite foods for both at-home and on-the-go consumption. Increased demand for smaller or slider-sized buns and rolls for snack-sized burgers and sandwiches can be expected, as similar ‘snackable’ items continue to penetrate restaurant menus and retail store shelves,” she notes.

Recent sales trends point to brioche as a stand-out for traditional buns and rolls and new, innovative products, Shaw adds.

“Restaurant menu pricing data shows that brioche menu items can command up to 33% higher prices than items made on traditional buns. This means foodservice operators can set a premium price point simply by upgrading their bun, protecting margin, and driving incremental revenue. For food-at-home consumers looking to elevate their bread staples, brioche-style items can be found for all dayparts—from breakfast buns and sandwich carriers, to sweet baked goods,” she comments.

“For the health-conscious, better-for-you bun and roll options are top-of-mind, and this consumer cohort grows by the day. Claims such as organic, made with real sugar, or all-natural preservatives are now front and center on packaging,” Shaw shares. “As a supplier of buns and rolls but also croissants, biscuits, English muffins, and sweet baked goods, we recognize that even for something as seemingly simple as a hamburger bun, there is rarely a one-size-fits-all solution.”

chicken burger
Courtesy of Bimbo Bakeries

Lorraine Hale, vice president and general manager – bread, buns/rolls, Bimbo Bakeries USA, says that flavor and convenience continue to stay top of mind for many consumers purchasing buns and rolls. 

“They want versatile products that transcend a single meal and can be used in a variety of sandwiches and snacks. Consumers are looking to buns and rolls for a sense of ease, as they’re on-the-go. We’ve also seen a push for premium and health-conscious products. Consumers want options that feature healthier ingredients like whole grains, seeds, and other superfoods,” she suggests.

Dave Gonnella, vice president of sales, Gonnella, says that the brand is seeing increased interest in seasonal offerings for its retail clientele. 

“The seasonal items help provide variety for incremental sales. Innovation has become paramount and new offerings are the focus of our R&D team, instead of dealing with the supply chain issues of the recent past that caused many bakers to have to reformulate,” he relates.

The brand’s signature assorted dinner rolls are a premium Thaw & Sell product that requires minimal labor for the store to execute during the busy holiday season, Gonnella adds. 

“The package offers something for everyone with Pretzel Rolls, French Rolls, Old World Round Rolls, and Multigrain Rolls in every package. We will be launching a Thaw & Sell Cluster Brioche Dinner Roll and Cluster Yeast Dinner Roll at IDDBA to augment our dinner roll line,” he shares.

Sabrina Tessier, vice president of marketing foodservice, FGF Brands (Ace Bakery) agrees that within the burger bun space, brioche has been a huge trend over the past couple of years. 

“The team at Ace is predicting that brioche will continue to grow and that potato buns will be hot on its heels as the next big carrier,” she notes. “In March, Ace Bakery launched five new premium burger buns in the foodservice channel, aimed at redefining what restaurant quality can be. In addition to two sizes of classic bun, the portfolio includes trending varieties brioche and potato, plus an eye-catching black and white sesame bun that chefs have been loving.”

In addition, as of May 1, Ace Bakery slider buns are available for foodservice, she says.

“The same premium quality as the rest of our lineup, these little buns have a high crown, clean taste, and are super resilient back of the house and through delivery,” Tessier promises.

burgers and fries
Courtesy of FGF Brands

Trends and looking forward

 Hale shares that this year, Bimbo Bakeries crowned Artesano “The Official Bun of The Chicken Sandwich.” 

“While not a new product launch, a number of consumer trends allowed us to capitalize on this unique opportunity and elevate the brand. Artesano buns and rolls posted the highest growth in the Buns & Rolls category in 2023. On a larger scale, data shows that the chicken sandwich has surged in popularity among consumers. Through this activation, Artesano buns allow consumers to enjoy their favorite chicken sandwiches, exactly the way they like it, at home,” she explains.

Buenning is of the same mind, saying that consumers are eager to replicate foodservice experiences at home, so they’re looking for restaurant-quality ingredients and menu options. 

“Our Take & Bake breads—which range from classic options such as French dinner rolls and multigrain loaves to the unexpected, such as sunflower turmeric rolls and torta rolls—can be kept in the freezer and pulled out for spur-of-the-moment dinner guests or as a complement to a weeknight meal. All the customer needs to do is thaw, bake, and serve, and they have a warm, fresh-from-the-oven addition to their homemade meal,” she elaborates.

The brand added a plant-based Brioche bun to its portfolio last year, reportedly well-received by foodservice operators, Buenning notes.

“We hope to make it available for consumers as well. Right now, La Brea Bakery is focused on ensuring we continue to provide high-quality, artisan breads that support and complement recipes from any culture. Global flavors are everything right now in the food industry, and our breads are the perfect foundation for heritage dishes,” she comments.

In addition, La Brea Bakery will be bringing back a fan favorite this holiday season, its Take & Bake Holiday Savory Rolls

“The rolls are one of our popular holiday limited time offerings, and they are perfect to serve with fall and winter comfort foods. Reminiscent of stuffing, the rolls are baked with celery, sage, thyme, and black and white pepper. You’ll find them on store shelves beginning in October,” Buenning says.

In terms of innovative new items, Shaw says Crown Bakeries is able to rapidly commercialize its products.

“Our croissant bun, launched this past year, combines the buttery, flakiness of a Crown croissant and the sturdy, on-the-go convenience of a bun. This item makes for a differentiated, artisanal sandwich carrier for fresh or frozen products with massive consumer appeal,” she promises. “Our priority is to deliver on-trend new products ahead of our customers’ needs. As one of the largest croissant bakeries in the country, we have been leveraging our operational capabilities to commercialize new laminated dough products, such as croissant loaves and Danish, each tailored to our customers’ specifications.” 

“Additionally, sweet and spicy flavor profiles continue to be popular in all industry segments with no signs of slowing down. To meet this demand, our R&D team is currently developing specialty biscuit varieties, such as hot honey, that make for a delectable sandwich carrier but are also delicious on their own,” Shaw finishes.