Bakery has become a hotbed of innovation at Easter time – particularly when it comes to hot cross buns.

Cambridge Market Research – which works with many leading retailers and manufacturers – put some of this year’s hot cross bun innovations to the test, purchasing 10 examples of hot cross bun NPD  from the shelves of major retailers.

The buns were taste-tested by consumers across the morth, Midlands and the south of England, with the total group a representative sample of the UK population in terms of gender, age and socio-economics.

Each bun was tasted blind (with the retailer and price being revealed after taste-testing) by at least 50 consumers, who rated the buns on key characteristics including appearance, taste, texture, aftertaste and intention to buy. All hot cross buns were served plain, not toasted, with Clover spread offered to participants to add if they wished.

Waitrose Mini Chocolate Orange Hot Cross Buns

Price: £1.69 / 9-pack

Cambridge Market Research (CMR) found: “Size didn’t matter when it came to this traditional, on-trend chocolate and orange flavour pairing. With a good ‘chocolatey’ flavour, complemented by the delicate orange taste, this hot cross bun was an ideal Easter treat. At £1.69, this was one of the most expensive products tested, a price that was high enough to reduce purchase intent once revealed.”


Aldi Specially Selected Orange & Cranberry Hot Cross Buns

Price: £0.99 / 4-pack

CMR: “A subtle twist on the traditional hot cross bun recipe, this was particularly well received at the appearance stage. An attractive colour, good size and a well distributed fruit filling, although consumers indicated they would like more fruit. These buns delivered a sweet, fruity flavour with a light and fluffy texture. Offering excellent value for money and from a trusted discounter, there were strong levels of purchase intent.”


Iceland Luxury Hot Cross Buns

Price: £1.00 / 4-pack

CMR: “This bun performed strongly as a premium-tier traditional offering. At a competitive price of £1 for four buns, this was deemed good value for money, with more than half expressing positive purchase intent. Praised for a ‘fruity’ and ‘spicy’ flavour delivery, this was considered a good-quality, traditional hot cross bun. After brand reveal, participants were surprised to see this was Iceland’s own brand, leaving nearly one-third willing to purchase this product as an alternative to the more traditional hot cross bun.”


Morrisons The Best Sticky Toffee & Date Hot Cross Buns

Price: £1.00 / 4-pack

CMR: “The combination of the toffee and date was seen as one of the most different variants currently on the market. Achieving joint top position with Aldi for value for money, four in 10 expressed positive purchase intent. The ‘sticky’ nature of the product was both a positive and negative dependent on personal preference. While some participants felt the bun needed a better date and toffee filling balance, and some concerned over the doughy texture, this was largely well received, with the flavour combination offering a tempting sweet flavour profile.”


Co-op Irresistible Sourdough Richly Fruited Hot Cross Buns

Price: £1.25 / 4-pack

CMR: “Co-op focused on the dough rather than the filling with its sourdough alternative. Rated highly across all key product performance measures, this translated into strong taste scores. Seen as ‘really tasty’, ‘sweet’, and ‘full of flavour’ this delivered everything a traditional hot cross bun should. Some testers felt this failed to deliver a pleasant texture, however. Overall, from a respected brand, with good value for money perceptions, purchase intent was positive, with half likely to buy.”


Waitrose Cherry & Almond Hot Cross Buns

Price: £1.69 / 4-pack

CMR: “A different hot cross bun without moving too far away from a traditional positioning, this achieved a strong overall score. While the inclusion of almond was slightly polarising, it was considered to complement the cherries. The marzipan flavour pleased some, but whether this would appeal to a wider audience is questionable as many said they would prefer traditional buns.”


Tesco Finest Toffee Fudge & Belgian Chocolate Hot Cross Buns

Price: £1.50 / 4-pack

CMR: “Pre-trial, this recipe was rated to be a good potential purchase, especially among younger participants, but it failed to achieve the standard set by the Waitrose Chocolate variant. The combination of toffee fudge and chocolate proved challenging to those who prefer a more traditional twist on a hot cross bun, being labelled as ‘sweet’ but ‘sickly’. The participants wanted more filling, something that they expect from Tesco’s premium, own-brand range.”


Sainsbury’s Taste The Difference Cranberry & Raisin Hot Cross Buns

Price: £1.50 / 4-pack

CMR: “The addition of cranberries provided a key point of difference from others available. A good golden brown colour with a distinct cross, the bun was well-received based on appearance. Flavour delivery largely matched expectations, with a good balance of spice and fruit, but overall the majority only rated this variant as average. Nearly two-thirds saw this creation as not being what they would have expected from Sainsbury’s premium own-brand.”


Tesco Finest Bramley Apple & Cinnamon Hot Cross Buns

Price: £1.50 / 4-pack

CMR: “Product delivery of this apple & cinnamon variant was disappointing, with consumers preferring the flavour of traditional hot cross buns, and critical of appearance, flavour and textural delivery. Considered too dark in colour and a ‘flat’, ‘thin’ appearance, the pre-trial purchase intent ratings were low. Upon tasting, the flavour and texture failed to improve consumer opinion.”


M&S Savoury Cheese Hot Cross Buns

Price: £1.70 / 4-pack

CMR: “While an innovative concept, the product execution failed to generate excitement, with the savoury aspect a step too far to be termed a hot cross bun. The cheese flavour was polarising and was considered overpowering, with more than half stating there was too much cheese. With three-quarters of participants indicating they would not buy, it would seem consumers are not yet ready for this type of hot cross bun.”


For further information on the study, contact Adam Morris at CMR on 01223 492050.