The momentum generated by the launch of thinly-sliced products several years back continues to lift the overall rolls/bun/croissants category, as consumers’ appetites for the lower calorie items have triggered strong dollar and unit sales growth.

In the 52 weeks ended Feb. 20, dollar sales of “all other” fresh rolls/bun/croissants totaled $1,262,190,000, up 14% from the same period a year ago, while unit sales rose 12% to 521,877,700, according to SymphonyIRI Group, a Chicago-based market research firm.

The growth has been sharp across the board, but the steepest gains have been scored among the “thin,” “flat” and “round” products. For instance, dollar and unit sales of Norwalk, Conn.-based Pepperidge Farm rolls/bun/croissants rose 47% and 50%, respectively, during the 52 weeks ended Feb. 20. The gains primarily reflected a 170% rise in dollar sales of Pepperidge Farm Deli Flats, to $42,397,510, and a 185% gain in unit sales, to 15,002,460.

Likewise, Flowers Foods, Inc., Thomasville, Ga., experienced a 34% gain in dollar sales, to $76,724,250, and a 37% increase in unit sales, to 30,822,670, according to SymphonyIRI. The company’s Cobblestone Mill brand suffered a 5% decline in dollar and unit sales during the 52 weeks ended Feb. 20, but the Nature’s Own brand, boosted by the launch of Nature’s Own 100% Whole Grain Sandwich Rounds, 100% Whole Wheat and Healthy Multi Grain Sandwich Rounds in 2010, saw dollar and unit sales rise 265% and 246%, respectively, during the period.

Bimbo Bakeries USA, Horsham, Pa., the largest player in the rolls/bun/croissants category, posted an 8% gain in dollar sales and 11% increase in unit sales during the period, according to SymphonyIRI, driven in no small part by nearly $20 million in sales from the recently launched Arnold Select Sandwich Thins line.

Traditional buns, rolls struggling

In contrast to the success in the “all other” rolls/bun/croissants category, sales have not been as strong in the traditional hamburger and hot dog buns category tracked by

SymphonyIRI. In the 52 weeks ended Feb. 20, dollar sales in the category were $1,329,130,000, down 2% from the same period a year ago, while unit sales were down a shade less than 1% to 801,100,400. Only one of the top 10 companies — Aunt Millie’s Bakeries, Fort Wayne, Ind. — posted a year-over-year dollar sales gain, and only two of the top 10 companies — Aunt Millie’s Bakeries and Flowers Foods — posted year-over-year gains in unit sales.

Specialty items look to spark sector

Although not a large player in the category, Rudi’s Gluten-Free Bakery, Boulder, Colo., will look to provide a spark to the segment with the launch of Gluten-Free Multigrain Hamburger Buns and Gluten-Free Multigrain Hot Dog Rolls. The buns are made with all-natural ingredients, molasses and honey, while the rolls feature flaxseed, sunflower seeds and corn meal. Rudi’s also is introducing Organic Potato Slider Buns that consist of organic potato flour and sea salt.

“Consumers had told us for years that they were highly dissatisfied with gluten-free bread and bakery products,” said Doug Radi, vice-president of marketing for Rudi’s Organic Bakery. “Our gluten-free breads addressed this problem by delivering a taste and look just like real bread. We’re excited to add our new hamburger buns, hot dog rolls and pizza crusts to our gluten-free line, creating more healthy and wholesome options the whole family can enjoy.”

Elsewhere, Miller Baking Co., Milwaukee, has begun to more actively ship its pretzel buns. The buns, on sale at Whole Foods markets across the Midwest as well as in food service establishments, soon will be available for on-line ordering at

After working on development of the pretzel buns for several years, Miller Baking’s owners believe they have created a product that is lighter and airier than other pretzel buns, with a touch of sweetness. The company currently offers burger buns, sausage buns and mini-buns.

New imaging system may improve bun quality

ATLANTA — The Georgia Tech Research Institute said its researchers have developed a production-line system that automatically inspects the quality of sandwich buns exiting the oven and adjusts oven temperatures if it detects unacceptable buns.

“We have closed the loop between the quality inspection of buns and the oven controls to meet the specifications required by food service and fast-food customers,” said Douglas Britton, senior research engineer at the G.T.R.I. “By creating a more accurate, uniform and faster assessment process, we are able to minimize waste and lost product.”

According to the G.T.R.I., the new process will eliminate the time needed to make manual adjustments in terms of ensuring consistent color, size, shape and seed coverage in buns.

“Automated control over the baking process is necessary to produce a consistent product through batch changes, shift changes, daily and seasonal temperature and humidity changes, and variations in ingredients,” Mr. Britton said.

The production-line system has been tested by Flowers Foods, Inc., Thomasville, Ga., and Baking Technology Systems, Tucker, Ga. For the past year, the system has been in full-operational mode in a Flowers Foods bakery, inspecting a variety of buns, including seeded buns, unseeded buns, different size buns and different top-bun shapes, the G.T.R.I. said.