In a nationwide survey conducted in 2021 by The Harris Poll and commissioned by General Mills Foodservice, consumers were found to be eating more breakfast foods than normal during the pandemic and not just in the morning hours. This trend has continued into 2023.

Nearly a quarter of Americans report eating more breakfast foods during the COVID-19 pandemic than normal (24 percent). Nearly four in five Americans (79 percent) say they have eaten breakfast foods outside of the traditional breakfast meal in the past year. One of the most popular breakfast foods during both traditional and non-traditional hours is the cinnamon roll (34 percent).

Whether enjoyed during breakfast, as a snack, or with a hearty bowl of chili (it’s a Midwest thing, just trust me), cinnamon rolls are beloved for their sweet addition to any plate. It’s hard to beat the gooey goodness of a cinnamon roll, but thankfully, flavor specialists across the country are taking the baked good in interesting new directions.

This culinary canvas is perfect for pairing with a variety of flavors. According to Sarah Jampel, recipe development and test kitchen manager at King Arthur Baking Company, since cinnamon rolls are associated with cinnamon, brown sugar, butter, and vanilla, it’s easy to find other ingredients that go well.

“Some particularly well-suited fits are almond, chocolate/cocoa, coffee/espresso, cardamom/ginger/allspice (and other warming baking spices), and orange zest,” Jampel says. “I think that the two easiest places to add flavor to your cinnamon rolls, even if you’re using an existing recipe, is in the filling and the frosting/icing by making small, impactful tweaks, like adding almond extract to the glaze or rubbing your sugar with orange zest before sprinkling it over the rolled-out dough.”

Melissa Trimmer, executive pastry chef at Dawn Foods, also affirms the versatility of cinnamon rolls and their ability to pair well with many flavors.

“In the morning, hazelnut or almond coffees and dark, rich teas go great with a warm cinnamon roll. If you’re enjoying one in the evening, a whisky or bourbon cocktail pairs well after a nice dinner,” Trimmer says. “I like taking day old cinnamon rolls, slicing them up the middle, buttering them, then toasting it on a flat top griddle which makes a delicious caramel pecan sundae.”

Winter Trends

GeneralMills_CarrotCakeCinnRoll.jpgSource: General Mills Foodservice 

Winter is officially here, and with the colder weather it brings this is the season for dishes that offer warmth and comfort. Chefs of the Mills, General Mills’ team of culinary experts, recently shared its top picks for on-trend recipes.

The company’s Winter Trends 2022 Report features nine recipes created for foodservice that are sure to comfort and delight diners, including revamped Wellingtons, elevated cinnamon rolls and new deep-fried takes on favorite baked goods.

“As we approach winter and a festive time of year, it’s important to offer comfort food that also sparks joy,” says Jessie Kordosky, who is part of the Chefs of the Mills team and monitors trends. “We hope these recipes will inspire operators to reimagine some classics with new flavors and forms to surprise and delight their customers this season.”

The elevated cinnamon rolls trend gives operators the inspiration to wow guests with unexpected yet familiar flavor combinations and presentations of these elevated cinnamon roll ideas. Among the recipes General Mills Foodservice offers include Carrot Cake Cinnamon Rolls, Candied Apple Crunch Cinnamon Rolls, and Cinnamon Roll Bread Pudding. All three of these options provide a simple, yet effective upgrade over the traditional cinnamon roll.

Chef Kevin Relf, another member of the Chefs of the Mills who worked on the recipes, elaborates on how operators can leverage one of American's favorited baked goods in new and creative ways across the menu. He says that winter ingredients such as ginger, carrots, pears, apples, caramel, s’mores, and warm spices pair well with cinnamon.

“We are seeing the pairing of savory ingredients with cinnamon rolls, such as bacon, squash, carrots, nuts, etc.,” Relf says. “We know operators are always looking for ways to offer something unexpected yet familiar to their customers, so we offer a variety of twists on the classic cinnamon roll. There are always going to be customers who want a traditional cinnamon roll, but it is fun to see more creative presentations with cinnamon rolls pop up, whether it is creative flavor combinations and toppings or new forms.”

Relf says that for the Carrot Cake Cinnamon Roll, he enjoys and wanted to showcase the combination of carrots, ginger, and warm spices in a cinnamon roll. For the Candied Apple Crunch, he wanted to play off the caramel apple flavor and add texture through the cinnamon toast crunch. Finally, for the Cinnamon Roll Bread Pudding, he wanted to highlight a way for operators to utilize day-old cinnamon rolls. He suggests that instead of throwing them out, keep a bag in the freezer for leftover cinnamon rolls, and when enough are accumulated, you can run a special.

Sarah Jampel of King Arthur sees cinnamon rolls trending towards big, bold flavors that haven’t necessarily been showcased with the product before.

“I’ve seen cinnamon rolls with a bright-green matcha glaze and others rolled up with sweet tahini paste,” she says. “I feel like I’m seeing more and more cinnamon rolls that are “decorated” too, with things like sprinkles, dried flowers, etc.”

Jampel also says that big, fluffy cinnamon rolls are in style, as well as cinnamon rolls that are naturally leavened with sourdough starter. King Arthur is about to publish a recipe for a giant cinnamon roll that’s baked in a cake pan but as one huge spiral (rather than several individual cinnamon rolls). It’s served by slicing it into wedges, like a cake.

At Dawn Foods, Chef Melissa Trimmer and the culinary team have worked on pairings such as orange cinnamon rolls, carrot cake cinnamon rolls, and confetti cinnamon rolls. Trimmer says that you can change up the ingredients on the inside of the roll, such as rolling up birthday cake sprinkles instead of cinnamon or using fresh berries to make a berry roll. She also suggests boozy and new, unique flavor combinations are trending the most heading into the winter season.

“Pecan bourbon sticky buns, toffee peanut bacon sticky buns and pineapple upside-down cake sticky buns are the perfect treats to share after holiday dinners and parties,” she says.

Showcasing on Menus

Dawn_CinnamonRoll3.jpgSource: Dawn Foods 
So, you’ve experimented with some new flavors of cinnamon rolls, but you need to relay that to your customers. How can you better showcase cinnamon rolls on your menus?

As previously mentioned, cinnamon rolls have transcended the breakfast daypart and can be enjoyed any time of day, whether as a midday snack or post-dinner dessert. Chef Melissa Trimmer suggests playing with the size and presentation of cinnamon rolls to cater to these categories.

“Another great idea for operators to showcase them is to serve the rolls warm by pressing them down in a waffle iron, sandwich press or even grilled on a flat top,” she says. “Mini versions of cinnamon rolls are perfect for mix and match menu items that can be served at a group brunch or for dessert. Pershing, which is a yeast raised donut dough that is rolled up with cinnamon, sliced, and fried, is also a great addition to use as well.”

Beyond the visual, another sense you should aspire to appeal to is smell. According to Chef Kevin Relf of General Mills, “smell sells.”

“One of the best ways to showcase cinnamon rolls is to have the aroma of fresh baked cinnamon rolls in your operation,” he says. “If that’s not possible, it’s key to nail an appealing flavor combination that catches your guests’ attention. Think s’mores, caramel apple, peanut butter cup, cookie dough, carrot cake, bourbon glazed, etc. Also consider ways to feature cinnamon rolls beyond breakfast as a dessert item throughout the day or even as part of an entrée.”

Cinnamon rolls can be difficult and time-consuming to make. General Mills Foodservice offers a range of options to help operators offer traditional homemade cinnamon rolls without all the work of making them from scratch. The company provides operators with an extremely tolerant and consistent product, which comes in either a freezer to oven format—no thawing or proofing necessary—or a thaw, proof and bake product. They minimize the risk of human error, and give operators a speed scratch, blank canvas to be able to showcase their creativity with toppings.

General Mills Foodservice recently introduced new retail-ready Pillsbury Cinnamon Rolls for retail bakeries. The rolls come pre-packaged in eye-catching clamshell containers and are ready to be featured in bakery cases after thawing. They are a low-labor way for retail bakeries to offer cinnamon rolls with homemade taste from a brand synonymous with quality baked goods.

Vegan Cinnamon Rolls

Cinnaholic_JellyRoll.jpgSource: Cinnaholic


Chef Relf says that he and the rest of the Chef of the Mills team also see more and more dietary-sensitive baking such as vegan, gluten-free, and dairy-free. Many consumers are particularly interested in vegan baked good options. This is evidenced by one of the fastest rising bakery chains, Cinnaholic.

Based in Atlanta, Cinnaholic allows customers to completely customize cinnamon rolls with more than 20 frosting flavors and over 20 topping choices. Each Cinnaholic cinnamon roll is 100 percent vegan and free of dairy, lactose, eggs, and cholesterol. This year, the company celebrated its 12th anniversary and, in that time, has grown to more than 70 locations across the United States and Canada.

The demand for these dietary-friendly products is strong. In addition to giving customers plenty of mix-and-match options, Cinnaholic “rolls” out new menu items each season. As of this writing, the company had not yet released its winter menu, but in the fall of 2022, its limited time offers (LTOs) included:

  • Savory Pizza Roll – Available for National Pizza Month in October, this item is made with the Cinnaholic signature dough, rolled with savory marinara and mozzarella and cheddar shreds, and topped with more marinara and cheese
  • Carnival Crunch Roll – Topped with caramel frosting, popcorn, marshmallows, and sprinkles
  • Pumpkin Spice Roll – Pumpkin frosting topped with homemade Cinnadoodle cookie bites, pumpkin bread, and cinnamon dust

In January of last year, Cinnaholic release its winter menu, which included the Shake, Rattle & Roll (peanut butter frosting topped with homemade peanut butter cups, fresh bananas, and pretzels) and the Very Berry Roll (topped with crème brûlée frosting piled with fresh strawberries, blueberries, raspberry jam and powdered sugar).

The variety that makes Cinnaholic popular is prevalent at other cinnamon roll-focused bakeries. In October of 2022, Nebraska’s The Omaha Bakery introduced a concept where customers could build their own cinnamon rolls. They can choose from four types of cinnamon rolls, nine frosting options and twelve topping options. They can then finish the rolls with three types of drizzle, including caramel, chocolate, and peanut butter sauce.