Just as thinly-sliced bagels have captured the imagination of baking companies and piqued the interest of consumers across the United States, buns and rolls that have been recreated to resemble something between a slice of bread, a tortilla and a bun have rejuvenated their respective bakery category.

In the 52 weeks ended Feb. 21, dollar sales in the buns and rolls category totaled $2,387,078,000, according to Information Resources, Inc., up nearly 5% from the same period a year ago. Unit sales also rose nearly 5%, to 1,235,545,000.

The strength in the segment has not been driven by private label. Unit sales of private label buns and rolls rose only 0.78% to 625,394,600 during the latest 52 weeks, I.R.I. said, while dollar sales fell 0.85% to $848,526,600. Instead, branded companies, through the introduction of new products — such as “thins” or “flats” — are carrying the day in the category.

After introducing Sandwich Thins under the Arnold brand in the Eastern United States in late 2008, Bimbo Bakeries USA, Inc., Horsham, Pa., expanded the launch to the West in July 2009 under the Oroweat brand. Described by the company as “thinner than a roll, healthier than most sliced bread, and more practical than a pita,” the product helped drive a 174% spike in dollar sales for the Arnold brand to a category leading $185,937,900, according to I.R.I. Unit sales also soared, climbing 170% to 65,816,380.

The Sandwich Thins are available in four varieties: 100% Whole Wheat, Multi-Grain, Whole Grain White and Seedless Rye. The 100-calorie products also contain whole grains, ranging from 6 grams to 11 grams per serving, depending on the variety.

Another company “going thin” is Pepperidge Farm, Inc., Norwalk, Conn. Last October the company introduced Deli Flats, 100-calorie thin rolls available in three varieties: Soft 100% Whole Wheat, Soft Oatmeal and 7 Grain. Each roll has 5 grams of fiber.

The addition of the Deli Flats has helped drive a 20% gain in dollar sales and a 16% increase in unit sales at Pepperidge Farm over the past 52 weeks, according to I.R.I.

“We have been seeing strong results from our Deli Flats product,” said Tim Hassett, senior vice-president and general manager for fresh and frozen bakery at Pepperidge Farm. “We recently expanded Deli Flats, and they are now available everywhere Pepperidge Farm breads are sold. Knowing that many consumers use Deli Flats for grilling, this summer we will launch a new variety. In addition, we are finding that Deli Flats are being used for all meal occasions, including breakfast.”

Mr. Hassett said Pepperidge “hit the trifecta” with the Deli Flats, as the product delivers on health, versatility and taste.

“At 100 calories, thin rolls allow consumers to enjoy the foods they love, without having to sacrifice taste,” he said.

Mr. Hassett said Pepperidge will continue to seek out similar new products for the bun and roll category going forward.

“Innovation in the category is very important,” he said. “We are working on new ideas that continue to offer consumers a better bread and roll experience. As well, I think flatbreads are fertile ground.”

A couple years after receiving a boost from the introduction of Sara Lee Soft & Smooth Wheat Hot Dog and Hamburger Buns Made with Whole Grain, Downers Grove, Ill.-based Sara Lee Corp. hopes to recharge sales with several new products and expanded distribution of others.

The company is expected to launch EarthGrains 100% Natural Thin Buns later this year featuring Eco-Grain wheat. In addition, the company’s Soft & Smooth Plus line featuring DHA omega-3 fatty acid is expected to eventually be extended from the bread aisle to the bun and roll category.

Sara Lee also hopes to get a boost from wider distribution this spring of the 80-calorie Sara Lee Delightful Wheat Bun launched in mid-summer 2009.

A different strategy appears to have spurred growth at Hostess Brands, Inc., Irving, Texas. Despite the lack of new product launches during the past year, unit sales jumped 29% and dollar sales rose 4% driven by a 47c decline in the average price per unit, according to I.R.I. At $1.93 per unit, Hostess buns and rolls compared favorably with an average retail price of $1.36 for private label product. By comparison, the average price per unit for Martin’s Famous Pastry Shoppe, Inc. was $3.16, while Sara Lee’s buns and rolls averaged $2.55 per unit and Flowers Foods, Inc. averaged $2.35, according to I.R.I.