Pepperidge Farm Farmhouse Hearty Buns
Pepperidge Farm turned in hamburger and hot dog buns sales of $81,495,801 in the 52 weeks ended July 10.

KANSAS CITY — When consumers choose buns and rolls, data suggest they tend to opt for private label products that carry a price point an average of $1 below that of brand name products. But recent figures from Information Resources, Inc. indicate several companies may be helping change consumer thinking.

In the 52 weeks ended July 10, total dollar sales in the hamburger and hot dog buns category were $1,977,911,245, up 0.3% from the same period a year ago, according to I.R.I., a Chicago-based market research firm. Private label makes up more than 41% of fresh buns and hot dog buns sales, but in the 52 weeks ended July 10 dollar sales were down 3.8% from a year ago.

The top branded player — Grupo Bimbo S.A.B. de C.V. — also experienced a dip in sales during the past 52 weeks, falling 1.3% to $442,233,247, while the No. 3 player, Martin’s Famous Pastry Shoppe Inc., experienced a 2.6% decline in sales during the period.

But one brand packing a punch was Pepperidge Farm, a division of Campbell Soup Co., Camden, N.J. Campbell Soup turned in hamburger and hot dog buns sales of $81,495,801 in the 52 weeks ended July 10, up nearly 19% from the same period a year ago.

In a July 20 investor day conference call with analysts, Luca Mignini, president of Global Biscuits and Snacks for Campbell Soup, said the company’s U.S. bakery portfolio is delivering strong performance as Pepperidge’s buns and rolls “have been the star of many a barbecue over the last year.”

“Our R.&D. team is to credit here, building on quick-serve restaurant trends to deliver a steady pipeline of consumer driven innovation, including our newest Pepperidge Farm Farmhouse Hearty brand in varieties such as rustic potato and stone ground wheat,” Mr. Mignini said. Pepperidge Farm describes the Farmhouse Hearty Buns as “a hearty, generously-sized bun with a deliciously soft inside and a dark golden top that allows for all the fixings of a great burger without falling apart on you.”

The recently launched Pepperidge Farm Farmhouse Hearty Buns are available in packs of eight for $3.99 throughout the Northeast.

Pepperidge also has been able to grow its buns and rolls business through geographical expansion.

“Pepperidge Farm breads and rolls have not been available in the Western region of the U.S. — until now,” Mr. Mignini said. “In the first quarter we launched our bakery products into Phoenix, Ariz., and we have met all of our measure for success to date.”

Aunt Millie’s Bakeries, a family-owned company that bakes bread and other baked foods, ranks next behind Campbell Soup in terms of hamburger and hot dog buns dollar sales. The Fort Wayne, Ind.-based company posted dollar sales of $54,007,868 in the 52 weeks ended July 10, up nearly 4% from the same period a year ago, according to I.R.I.

Earlier this year, Aunt Millie’s unveiled plans to open a new bakery in Lowell, Ind., in the spring of 2017. The company plans to make hamburger and hot dog buns and other baked foods at the bakery. When fully operational, the new bakery is expected to provide approximately 117 jobs, the company said.

“For some time we have needed additional capacity, and this new bakery will allow us to better serve our Northwestern territory,” said John F. Popp, president of Aunt Millie’s.

Although its total sales may lag that of other companies in the hamburger and hot dog buns category, King’s Hawaiian Holding Co., Inc., Torrance, Calif., has helped push the segment forward over the past year. In the 52 weeks ended July 10, King’s Hawaiian hamburger and hot dog buns sales totaled $29,295,155, up 32% from a year ago. Meanwhile, dollar sales of its all other fresh rolls/buns/croissants climbed nearly 14% to $406,047,660.

King’s Hawaiian, which is known for its sweet rolls, settled two lawsuits over the past year, with Alpha Baking Co., Inc. and Aldi, Inc., that had to do with infringement on the company’s packaging. King’s Hawaiian contended that the two companies were trying to capitalize on its strong brand recognition in the buns and rolls category.

Betting big on buns

Heightened competition in the restaurant industry has resulted in a “bun-upmanship” among brands — that is, operators are experimenting with unusual or artisanal sandwich buns to stand out in the crowded sector.

Red Robin Gourmet Burgers, Inc., Greenwood Village, Colo., offered a Red Ramen Burger, served on a crispy seasoned ramen bun, earlier this spring. The product was inspired by the original ramen burger, which rose to Cronut-like fame following its 2013 debut in a Brooklyn, N.Y., food hall.

Burger King Corp., Miami, introduced the Angriest Whopper sandwich, sporting a red bun infused with hot sauce. Topped with a spicy sauce, fried onion petals and jalapeños, the burger is a follow-up to the brand’s fall offering, the A.1. Halloween Whopper sandwich, which featured a black bun with A.1. sauce baked in.

Whereas sandwich innovation centered on creative toppings in recent years, fun buns are now having a moment on mainstream menus, said Aaron Jourden, managing editor with Technomic Inc., a Chicago-based restaurant industry tracker.

“Since it’s becoming harder to stand out with interesting topping combinations alone, restaurants have been looking at the burger bun as a place where they can be innovative,” Mr. Jourden told Milling & Baking News. “Also playing into this trend have been some ideas borrowed from Asia, where interesting buns have led to viral hits fueled social media. Restaurants are using these interesting buns to grab attention that hopefully translates to increased business.”

Other chains recently have upgraded to better-quality buns. Wendy’s Co., Dublin, Ohio, in February unveiled a bakery-style bun that had been “recrafted to be lighter, fluffier and hotter.” Jack in the Box, San Diego, also introduced a new “buttery, bakery bun” as part of a comprehensive menu overhaul.