Retailers are flipping tradition on its head and giving hot cross buns a new lease of life.
Nostalgia never goes out of fashion. From the ’80s vibe of spooky Netflix show Stranger Things, to the imminent reunion of 80% of the Spice Girls, consumers love a blast from the past.
It’s a love bakers are well-placed to embrace – and have certainly been doing so in recent years when it comes to hot cross buns, with the category seeing a surge of flavour development.
“Sometimes innovation is a bold quest for the new, and sometimes it’s about pressing people’s nostalgic buttons,” says Nicola Swift, head of product developer Food Innovation Solutions.
“Hot cross buns draw on the latter, with flavours such as marmalade and chocolate orange, and perhaps the biggest hit of nostalgia this year coming from a rhubarb and custard bun.”
The Rhubarb & Custard bun has been launched by Aldi alongside a new Blueberry bun, and is among a raft of fruity NPD coming to market this year. Sainsbury’s is offering Triple Berry buns as part of its Taste the Difference range, while Apple & Cinnamon buns are being rolled out by both Asda and Waitrose.
This year, the latter retailer is selling its biggest-ever range of hot cross buns, and says NPD has already helped drive a 40% sales increase in the category compared to last year. Meanwhile, searches for ‘hot cross buns’ on its website are up more than 11% year on year.
The Waitrose line-up includes the Waitrose 1 Elderflower, Lemon and Lovage buns, and Orange, Cranberry & Jasmine buns containing fruit and an infusion of jasmine green tea.
“We know how much our customers love hot cross buns, so we’ve introduced even more delicious flavour combinations, including unexpected ingredients like lovage – an aromatic herb with hints of lemon and anise,” says Waitrose product developer Stuart Owens.
Across the grocery market, last year’s innovation helped volume sales of hot cross buns rise 4.1% year on year [Kantar Worldpanel 52 w/e 2 December 2018] but, with the bulk of sales coming from more traditional recipes, retailers and suppliers shouldn’t lose touch with the classics.
“The most critical piece of innovation – if it’s needed – is making sure your classic is up to scratch,” advises Swift. “Perfectly plump raisins, judicious spicing, a beautifully soft milk-and-butter dough and a lip-smacking sticky glaze.”
When it comes to bun format there has been little innovation beyond the roll-out of brioche hot cross buns in some supermarkets, and the more widely adopted mini hot cross bun. But some bakers have used traditional hot cross bun flavours in other products.
Mr Kipling unveiled Hot Cross Slices last year, while Waitrose has previously offered a Hot Cross Bun Panettone. This year, new lines include a Hot Cross Cob from The Co-op and hot cross bun shortbread from Fortnum & Mason. Daylesford Organic is to sell hot cross bun scones, fudge and raw bites (described by the company as as fusion of Easter spice, fruit, walnuts and honey, bound with coconut oil and finished with a cross).
Meanwhile, Gail’s Bakery is offering innovation of a different sort in the form of the Bacon Hot Cross Bun (rsp £6) – a traditional hot cross bun served hot with bacon. Gail’s says the combination of sweet and savoury creates “a mouth-watering bite”.
While a hot cross bacon sarnie may not be to everyone’s taste, there is enough variation on the hot cross bun fixture to spice up anyone’s life – to paraphrase a certain ’90s pop group.
Hot cross bun NPD
Aldi rsp: £1.09/four-pack
Aldi says this NPD brings the distinctly sweet taste of blueberries into a hot cross bun, and is similar in taste to a blueberry muffin. The business has also launched a Rhubarb & Custard bun this Easter.
Elderflower, Lemon & Lovage
Waitrose rsp: £1.89/two-pack
Waitrose is this year selling its biggest-ever hot cross bun range, including this creation launched as part of its Waitrose 1 line-up. These are made using a bespoke sourdough, soaked fruit and double cream, flavoured with elderflower extract, lemon zest and lovage.
Apple & Cinnamon
Asda rsp: £1/four-pack
Asda has expanded its range of Extra Special hot cross buns with a trio of new flavours, including chocolate, fudge and an apple & cinnamon variant.
Morrisons rsp: £1.65/two-pack
These traditional currant and sultana hot cross buns are filled with fresh whipped cream and raspberry compote and are available from Morrisons’ in-store bakery.