KANSAS CITY — Brioche-style products are driving the market for buns and rolls as consumers look for ways to add sophistication to their meals both at home and when dining out. While consumers are carefully evaluating their spending in the current economic environment, they have shown a willingness to pay for such premium products as they seek a small indulgence.

“We are seeing more premium, perimeter-of-the-store items continuing to grow, especially in that branded space,” said Brie Buenning, director of marketing for Los-Angeles based La Brea Bakery. “As consumers are having to limit their out-of-home spending or their foodservice spending, they are actually paying for those more premium items.”

This backdrop has led to a flurry of new brioche introductions, including gluten-free options in addition to products marketed as plant-based. Beyond brioche, baking companies can find success with regionally inspired introductions as well as positioning favorites in a new way.

Sizing up the market

Despite inflation pinching wallets, consumers are still seeking variety when it comes to the foods they buy. As a foundational part of mealtimes, buns and rolls can take advantage of peoples’ need for something new, pointed out Kelsey Olsen, consumer insights analysis for food and drink at Mintel. 

“Bread is a staple, winning with its familiarity and simplicity, both of which remain significant alongside innovative efforts,” she said. “Buns and rolls are the foundation for an easy meal solution while piquing consumer interest with new flavors, textures and corresponding cuisines.” 

Globally inspired products are ways companies can demonstrate relevance to younger consumers, and Trader Joe’s Pao d’Agua Portuguese ready-to-heat frozen rolls give consumers the chance to try a less mainstream global product in an approachable format, Ms. Olsen said. Snacking also presents an opportunity for the segment to showcase the versatility of products beyond traditional dayparts, such as Ozery Bakery’s line of snacking rounds described as bite-sized fruit and grain buns.

The rising cost of ingredients as well as supply chain and labor issues have all impacted innovation, so companies are developing smarter marketing strategies to highlight new uses for existing products to drive sales growth, Ms. Olsen explained. Ball Park Buns, a brand of Bimbo Bakeries USA, Horsham, Pa., and King’s Hawaiian, Torrance, Calif., have used their Instagram pages to showcase new recipes, including Ball Park’s recipe for a breakfast sandwich on its Everything Hamburger Buns and King’s Hawaiian’s recipes for mini chicken and waffles using Original Hawaiian Sweet Rolls. 

Retail growth is also being driven by the fact that these breads are a more approachable and versatile option than a loaf of bread, Ms. Buenning said. Consumers purchase the products initially to use with a specific meal, but she said they continue to use the leftover bread in other ways from sandwiches to salad croutons.

“The pre-pandemic trend of adding value and differentiation to the bun is back, and we have seen the expansion in the offerings of indulgent brioche-type products but also sprouted and organic offerings,” said JP Frossard, consumer foods analyst with Rabobank. “It has brought along substantial investments in production capacity for premium buns and recent merger and acquisition activity in the segment.” 

Mr. Frossard noted this includes Grupo Bimbo’s acquisition of St Pierre Group, the UK-based maker of brioche buns, bagels and rolls, and Easton, Pa.-based Bakerly’s plans for a new facility in San Antonio.

US retail sales across multiple outlets and convenience stores for center-store buns and rolls were up 10.8% and reached $5 billion during the 52 weeks ended Feb. 26, according to Circana OmniMarket Integrated Fresh. At the same time, dollar sales of perimeter buns and rolls were up 14.9% to $992.7 million. Additionally, sales of center-store croissants rose 7.5% to reach $223.5 million while perimeter croissants were up 22% to $643.6 million.

Still, this dollar sales growth was driven by price increases as unit sales were down in the center of the store and flat in the perimeter, said Melissa Altobelli, principal of client insights, bakery vertical, Circana. Yet brioche-style buns and rolls saw notable dollar and unit growth in 2022, outpacing the category with the top new products in the last year including Sara Lee Artesano Brioche Buns and Canyon Bakehouse Brioche-Style Sweet Rolls.