Bun and roll sales retreat amid waning demand

by Eric Schroeder
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Even though the prime hamburger and hot dog grilling season is still a few months away, data from SymphonyIRI Group, a Chicago-based market research firm, show lackluster interest over the past 12 months as interest in “thin,” “flat” and “round” products has slowed.

In the 52 weeks ended Feb. 19, unit sales in the hamburger and hot dog buns category fell more than 3% to 772,855,700, while sales of all other fresh rolls/buns/croissants fell 4% to 500,321,600, according to SymphonyIRI. The decline in the latter segment was in stark contrast to unit sales growth of 12% that occurred in the 52 weeks ended Feb. 20, 2011, according to SymphonyIRI. Most of the growth during late 2010 and early 2011 was driven by the changing shape of bun and roll offerings.

Of the top 5 hamburger and hot dog buns vendors, only Martin’s Famous Pastry Shoppe Inc., Chambersburg, Pa., and Hostess Brands, Inc., Irving, Texas, posted year-over-year unit sales gains at 1% and 13%, respectively. Meanwhile, the category leader, Sara Lee Corp., Downers Grove, Ill., suffered a nearly 4% decline to 70,932,260, and private label products sustained a 4% drop in unit sales to 448,498,500.

The news was not any better in the all other fresh buns/rolls/croissants category, where King’s Hawaiian Holding Co., Torrance, Calif., was the only company in the top 5 to post a year-over-year unit sales gain, at 10.5%. Most concerning was how sharp the declines were for the leaders, as unit sales in the period dropped 14% for Bimbo Bakeries USA, Fort Worth, Texas, 5.5% for Flowers Foods, Inc., Thomasville, Ga., 11% for Pepperidge Farm, Norwalk, Conn., and 33% for Sara Lee, according to SymphonyIRI.
While unit sales took a hit during the past year, bakers have been able to take some solace in the fact that dollar sales have improved in many instances.

In the 52 weeks ended Feb. 19, dollar sales in the hamburger and hot dog buns category rose nearly 2% to $1,351,446,000, while sales in the all other fresh rolls/buns/croissants category advanced 0.53%.
Hostess was one of the only companies in the hamburger and hot dog bun category to lower its average price per unit during the past 52 weeks, according to SymphonyIRI. While the average product went up 9c per unit in the period, the market research firm said Hostess lowered its average product price by 4c, which helped spur a 13% gain in unit sales and 11% gain in dollar sales in the period. Hostess has benefited over the past year from continued interest in its Nature’s Pride Premium Harvest Hamburger Buns and Deli Rolls, which were added to the company’s lineup in the summer of 2010. The buns are available in 100% Whole Wheat Bakery Buns, Country White Bakery Buns and Country White Deli Rolls.
At Sara Lee, dollar sales of all other fresh rolls/buns/croissants plummeted 24% in the 52-week period ended Feb. 19, but increased 2% in the hamburger and hot dog bun category. The gain in part reflected interest in the company’s four varieties of Thin Style Buns that were launched last fall: 100% Whole Wheat, 100% Multi-Grain, Honey Wheat and White made with Whole Grain. The 100% Whole Wheat and 100% Multi-Grain buns provide 22 grams of whole grains and 4 grams of fiber; the Honey Wheat buns offer 18 grams of whole grains and 5 grams of fiber; and the White made with Whole Grain buns contain 10 grams of whole grains and 4 grams of fiber per 43-gram, 100-calorie serving.

At the time of the products’ launch, Jeff Dryfhout, director of Sara Lee North American Fresh Bakery, said the buns were geared toward the company’s core audience — moms with young children — who are looking for better-for-you options.

Also late last year, Lewis Bakeries, Evansville, Ind., introduced a new flat bun product called Healthy Life 100% Whole Wheat Trim O’s. Available in 100% whole wheat and multi-grain, the flat buns are considered a good source of fiber with 3 grams of fiber per bun and 90 calories. The Healthy Life 100% Whole Wheat Trim O’s variety contains 22 grams of whole grain per bun.

“Most flat bun products in the grocery store have 100 calories per bun,” said Peggy Lewis, executive vice-president of Lewis Bakeries. “Healthy Life Trim O’s are 10 calories less, which adds up over time and can aid in weight loss.”

Udi’s Gluten Free Foods, Denver, has entered the fray with its gluten-free Classic Hamburger Buns, Whole Grain Hamburger Buns and Classic Hot-dog Buns. Udi’s is the first to launch gluten-free buns nationwide, according to the company.

Also free from dairy, the Classic buns contain 4 grams of fiber and 5 grams of protein per serving. The Whole Grain buns contain 6 grams of fiber and 5 grams of protein per serving.

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