In terms of future innovation in buns and rolls, Brie Buenning, director of marketing for Los-Angeles based La Brea Bakery, indicated the market is ready for more par-baked breads.

“Many of the buns and rolls that are produced today need to be proofed and baked, which takes time and labor,” she explained. “The category needs more par-baked breads, as well as consumer and operator education on the advantages of par-baked breads. While almost every producer of breads has a bun or a roll, the innovation continues to lag across the category.”

Melissa Altobelli, principal of client insights, bakery vertical, Circana echoed that such products are going to drive growth as consumers demand convenient foods while also desiring restaurant-like experiences at home.

Par-baked products meet this desire as they are simple to make, last longer and give the feeling of homemade bread.

“Labor-lean bakery options like pre-packaged and thaw-and-serve buns and rolls are critical for operators,” said Heather Davis, senior manager of customer insights at Bimbo Bakehouse, Horsham, Pa. “They need versatile, easy-to-prep products that minimize scratch cooking, require little to no employee training and can be used across the menu.”

While both basic buns and rolls and premium brioche products fill the market, there is also potential for emphasis on products that lie somewhere in the middle.

“Buns and rolls are popular now due to size and the ability to command increased price per pound,” Ms. Buenning explained. “The category is very competitive with a lot of new brands entering the space, which is largely defined by artisan-style buns and rolls and value hamburger buns. There aren’t a lot of breads produced in the ‘middle of the road.’ ”

Companies will continue to experiment with new flavors and develop innovative uses for buns and rolls going forward, Ms. Strain said.

However, innovation can’t come at too high of a price.

“Everyone wants innovation and new on the shelf and on menu, but it’s a balancing act,” said Kory Mickelson, chief commercial officer for Crown Bakeries. “Buns and rolls are typically complements to a sandwich build — so you need to deliver on consumer trends, but at a price that allows for sustained demand.”

Ms. Altobelli said center-store buns and rolls are slightly above pre-pandemic levels, but units continue to decline.

“I expect this trend to continue as consumers make trade-offs in the face of inflation,” Ms. Altobelli said. “It will be very important for manufacturers to use social media marketing to remind consumers of the cost savings hot dog and hamburger buns can provide as far as stretching the food dollar and feeding a family as well as the ability to have restaurant-like experiences at home with premium buns and rolls to increase usage.”

This article is an excerpt from the May 2023 issue of Baking & Snack. To read the entire feature on Buns & Rolls, click here.