Megan Stanton
Megan is a Senior Analyst for Purchase Intelligence and Mintel Food & Drink based in the Sydney office. She specialises in the application of Mintel's Purchase Intelligence tool and reports on the global snacks industry.

This is the time of year when consumers could be tempted by the traditional Easter treat of hot cross buns – if they live in the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, South Africa and some parts of the Americas. These are traditional yeast buns – originally made with sweet spices, dried or soaked fruit and marked with a white cross to represent the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. 

COVID-19 snack boost?

As most people won’t be able to spend this Easter with their extended family or friends because of COVID-19 restrictions, could consumers stuck at home be more tempted than usual to turn to comfort foods such as hot cross bun innovations? 

The original hot cross bun is reported to be produced by an Anglican monk in the 14th century who gave them to the poor on Good Friday. The tradition of sharing hot cross buns during the Easter holiday has continued with retail stores stocking them as early as December.

Up until three years ago, the majority of hot cross buns were either traditional spice and fruit or maybe the occasional chocolate or fruitless variant. Now an explosion of flavour variants are being explored. Using the Mintel Global New Products Database, we highlight the latest hot cross bun innovations.

Cross-category innovation

The popularity of hot cross buns has encouraged brands to experiment with flavours in other categories, with limited-time offers that coincide with Easter.

Easter Egg

Source: Waitrose

Divine Luxury Hot Cross Bun Milk Chocolate Egg with Smooth Milk Chocolate Mini Eggs: This limited-edition hot cross bun spiced egg consists of raisins and spiced cookies, covered by a smooth milk chocolate shell, and includes extra milk chocolate mini eggs (UK). 

Popcorn

Source: Mintel Global New Products Database

Coles Hot Cross Bun Popcorn launched in March 2020 to coincide with Easter and resonate with the voracious appetite of snackers looking for new flavour experiences (Australia).

Tea bag

Source: Mintel Global New Products Database

Sainsbury’s Hot Cross Bun Tea bag infusion launched in March 2020, offering a hot cross bun flavoured tea to go with the ever increasing flavour varieties of hot cross buns (UK).

Yogurt

Source: Mintel Global New Products Database

Müller Light Hot Cross Bun Flavour Yogurt: also known for its Christmas bakery-inspired yogurt, this company has released this hot cross bun flavour yogurt for Easter (UK).

Indulgent flavours

In the last three years, indulgently flavoured hot cross bun launches have increased in response to consumers seeking out new flavour experiences, as discussed in the Mintel Trend Sense of the Intense. In 2016, the majority of hot cross bun launches were unflavoured/original/fruit and spice, but now, Mintel Global New Products Database records more than fifty flavour variants.

Mocha hot cross bun

Source: Mintel Global New Products Database

The Australian retailer Woolworths has teamed up with confectionery brand Darrell Lea to develop a mocha hot cross bun. The co-branding signals quality to consumers, as almost half of Australian consumers typically look for new foods/flavours to try all or most of the time. 

Savoury buns that pack a ‘hot’ punch

Consumers without a sweet tooth can feel left out at Easter, because celebration foods revolve around chocolate and sweet treats. 

There is an opportunity for consumers with concerns over sugar intake to gravitate to more savoury alternatives at a time where few options exist in traditional Easter treats. Savoury varieties may attract consumers who may otherwise avoid Easter buns.

Chilli and cheese cross bun

Source: Mintel Global New Products Database

Earlier this year, Marks and Spencer in the UK launched a new savoury hot cross bun, with chilli and cheese made with jalapeno and chipotle chillies for those who prefer a fiery kick as explained in Mintel Trend Sense of the Intense.

What we think

Hot cross buns were once a simple, traditionally flavoured fruit and spice bun consumed for a short period over Easter. Opportunities now exist to cater to consumers’ need for products that are sustainable, exciting and personal by extending sales beyond the Easter season with new flavours including savoury varieties and a twist on traditional decorations.

Get creative with flavour: flavour innovation has reached fever pitch in hot cross buns! Now is the time to get creative with ingredients and processing techniques that offer unique flavour experiences for consumers.

Avoid sugar with savoury buns at Easter: brands with savoury hot cross buns can offer an alternative to sugary Easter treats and at the same time increase consumption occasions for the hot cross bun.

Personalise with a twist on traditional: capitalise on the consumer demand for the taste of hot cross buns beyond Easter. Swap the cross icon for shapes that represent other events or cater to the need for personalised products by allowing consumers to design their own.