Daffodils are blooming, the sun is (occasionally) shining, and supermarket shelves are packed with chocolate eggs which means Easter is just around the corner.

“Easter is growing in popularity, with exciting new products hitting the shelves every year,” notes Jeff Turner, innovation controller at cake manufacturer BBF. “Christmas is often seen as the biggest holiday of the year, for those who celebrate, but we are now starting to see an increase in popularity for other seasonal holidays such as Easter, Mother’s Day, Halloween and Valentine’s Day.”

The occasion is typically dominated by chocolate eggs and hot cross buns, but other products are vying for attention (and even the classics are being reimagined).

“From Simnel cakes to hot cross buns, themed cupcakes, muffins, celebration cakes, biscuits and cookies – the season appeals to wide-ranging age groups and demographics and ensuring there’s something for everyone is key,” believes Miriam Bernhart, marketing director, Bread & Pastry Solutions, CSM Ingredients.

Here, we explore the evolution of the Easter bakery market:

Banoffee hot cross buns with slices of banana

Source: M&S

Banoffee hot cross buns

A hot cross evolution

Hot cross buns are the hero bakery item at Easter, but a bog-standard bun just won’t cut it for some consumers who want to be wowed with innovative flavours and formats.

The supermarkets are certainly rising to the occasion with Cheddar & stout, banoffee, red velvet, and lemon curd & white chocolate variants among the new additions to ranges this year. Of course, traditional fare is also being offered as well as free-from options as they look to cater to everyone.

“Traditions are being honoured, but also turned on their head,” says Anna Rugen, Patisserie Valerie development chef. “If the flavour profile exists, you will probably find it in a hot cross bun on your supermarket shelf.”

Red Velvet Hot Cross Buns

Source: Tesco

The same is true in smaller establishments as the Craft Bakers Association says its members are experimenting with savoury flavours, such as cheese and Marmite, and adding sourdough, with these contributing to a predicted uptick in sales of the Easter treat.

“Whilst some nervousness within the market remains, amidst the cost-of-living crisis, local bakers on the high street are still expecting record breaking sales of hot cross buns – an affordable, traditional treat,” says Karen Dear, director of operations, Craft Bakers Association (CBA).

Gail’s Bakery is among those to embrace sourdough for its hot cross buns which are baked throughout the day. This year, notes Gail’s head baker Roy Levy, the recipe has been refreshed with the use of new flours (including wholewheat, semolina and rye), sourdough starter and new spices.

“We love our buns with a generous amount of vine fruits, so added more sultanas, cranberries, and orange peel as well as fresh orange juice and zest,” Levy says.

“We also added a touch of the very hard-to-find Grains of Paradise – the original spice used in traditional hot cross bun recipes dating back to the 1300s. It gives our bun a subtle peppery kick, which complements our existing spice mix of cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger.”

Crosstown hot cross bun doughnuts

Source: Crosstown

Some are even choosing to take the humble hot cross bun into new formats. Tesco, for example, has added a Hot Cross Bun Bread & Butter Pudding to its line-up while Mr Kipling is taking things one step further with Hot Cross Pies with a spiced fruit filling inside. Crosstown, meanwhile, has embraced the flavours for seasonal vegan doughnuts which see spiced dough filled with a cinnamon custard, topped with Seville orange glaze, and finished with a spiced cross and candied orange peel.

Hot cross buns are even venturing out of bakery and into confectionery. A Cadbury Dairy Milk limited edition bar is based on them, and an Easter egg alternative shaped like a hot cross bun is being unveiled by M&S.


A white chocolate yule log with mini chocolate mushrooms

Source: Two Magpies Bakery

Yule need some inspiration

Think yule logs, gingerbread and panettone are just for Christmas? Think again.

“This Easter, various products are to be adapted to offer something new to customers,” explains Dear from the Craft Bakers Association. “For example, CBA members plan to offer Easter panettone and Easter gingerbread as well as the traditional favourites.”

A panettone with chocolate and sprinkles on top

Source: Waitrose

Waitrose has embraced on-trend flavours for its Easter Chocolate & Orange Panettone. Made in Italy, the panettone features candied orange and lemon peel, and is finished with a slathering of chocolate and sugar sprinkles for a festive look.

Two Magpies Bakery, meanwhile, has restyled its yule log for the occasion. The chocolate-laden treat has a woodland theme and is filled with lemon-infused white chocolate ganache and sharp gooseberry jam. It’s covered in chocolate bark, meringue mushrooms and speckled chocolate eggs.

“This is a prime example of the modern demand for families at Easter who want an eye-catching centrepiece that can be shared,” says Fern Harman, back of house manager at Two Magpies Bakery.


A chocolate drip cake with chocolate swirls and white chocolate eggs on top

Source: Patisserie Valerie

A whole lot of chocolate

“Easter is all about chocolate and indulgence,” says Anna Rugen from Patisserie Valerie, “but it’s not all about the Easter egg.”

Chocolate is a core flavour in the sweet bakery market year-round so it’s no surprise that it takes centre stage at Easter. Patisserie Valerie, for one, has gone all in with chocolate for its Hazelnut & Chocolate Drip Cake with white chocolate eggs in chocolate cream nests, and its Mini Cakes Box.

Chocolate is the flavour of the season, but consumers are increasingly seeking something beyond milk chocolate.

“Take a browse down any supermarket Easter aisle and you’ll see a whole host of white chocolate delights, and this is being transferred into sweet bakery too,” explains Mike Bagshaw, founder of flavour specialists I.T.S.

“White chocolate flavour is taking the Easter market by storm this year and, as a result, we have been receiving lots of enquiries from bakers about natural white chocolate flavour that can be added to bakery lines to boost the white chocolate content and keep costs of the finished product stable.”

However, Bagshaw notes other indulgent flavours such as caramel and toffee are also being used throughout sweet bakes with “plenty of inclusions, such as popping candy or confectionery pieces”.


Florals? For spring? Ground-breaking

The Devil Wears Prada villain Miranda Priestly might not consider florals for spring to be ground-breaking, but sometimes you have to give the people what they want.

“Bunnies, flowers and flowerpots, as well as bees and bonnets, are traditional and popular symbols for the season that look attractive on biscuits, traybakes, cupcakes and crispy cakes,” notes CSM Ingredient’s Bernhart. “Colourways will be the traditional pink, white, green and yellow in paler hues as well as brighter, more neon tones to provide uplift and creativity to ranges.”

Pastel shades are big this year, notes Patisserie Valerie’s Rugen, who adds consumers also love the likes of eggs, bunnies, and chicks. “Whether it is novelty or sophisticated, if you see any product displaying an egg you automatically know it is for Easter,” she says.

Easter chick cake jar

Source: Asda / BBF

Cake and dessert manufacturer BBF has worked with Asda on a duo of Easter chick products, including a novelty cake and cake jar. Inside the jar, there are layers of lemon curd, sugar sprinkles, vanilla frosting and madeira sponge topped with an edible chick face. The celebration cake, meanwhile, sees soft madeira sponge filled with plum & raspberry jam and buttercream.

BBF innovation controller Jeff Turner also points to the popularity of “flavours associated with springtime – such as lemon, blueberry and carrot”.


Simnel cake on a blue background

Source: Getty Images

Simnel cake breaks the mould

Simnel cake is another bakery item synonymous with Easter although the traditional fruitcake with marzipan decorations could use an update. Thankfully, bakers have it in hand.

“Traditional products such as hot cross buns and Simnel cake have been given a makeover,” says Jacqui Passmore, marketing manager UK and Ireland at Dawn Foods. “We’re seeing some innovative takes on these familiar bakes, not only with new flavours but hybrid formats too.”

Passmore points to Simnel bread & butter pudding, Simnel lemon drizzle cake and Simnel cherry or raspberry tart which celebrate the signature almondy flavour in new formats.

“Hybrid Simnel cakes can be created with chocolate, orange or apple added to the sponge for a fresh flavour. The traditional marzipan topping can be adapted by adding ground pistachio powder, for example, to give a subtle new taste. Chocolate can also be used in place of marzipan,” she adds.


Cupcakes with marshmallows on to make them look like sheep

Source: British Bakels

Family-friendly fun

The excitement of Easter doesn’t have to be limited to Easter Sunday. In fact, just like Christmas, consumers are enjoying an extended season thanks to the availability of Easter-themed products.

“The Easter holidays bring a lot of opportunity for bakers, starting from the beginning of April, through to the Easter break, when the kids go back to school. It presents a great chance for families and friends to get together, and enjoying cakes and other bakery treats is a big part of it,” explains Michael Schofield, marketing manager for British Bakels.

The supplier has launched an Easter campaign to help bakers tap into this potential with 39 recipes including a Bunny Bum Cake, Hot Cross Bread & Lemon Pudding, Hot Cross Muffins, and an Easter Fruit Slice. It is also offering downloadable posters and shelf wobblers with the message ‘Hop into store to enjoy yummy Easter treats’ to highlight products in store.

There are opportunities for sales at different dayparts as well.

“Every year we also see crumpets shaped like the Easter bunny; these are particularly popular amongst families with younger children,” notes BBF’s Jeff Turner.

And like at other occasions, sharing is an important factor to consider during recipe development. This is already true of celebration cakes, but some are taking it one step further.

“We are seeing the market evolve and develop, with more of a desire for family-style bakes to share over the Easter period,” says Harman from Two Magpies Bakery. “This year we have created a range of family-style products, such as a Hot Cross Bun Loaf and a Sundried Tomato Tear & Share.”