21 Mar Consumer i: Hot Cross Buns
Hot Cross Buns are no longer just for Easter, but over 1½ million are expected to be sold in the run up to Easter, so what does the average person in the street look for from a good bun and which retailer offers the most appealing, traditional, mid-range, buns according to those who buy them: consumers?
We concentrated on standard Buns, avoiding in-store bakery lines and took a cross section of the many products on offer, testing them with a sample of 100 Hot Cross Bun buyers. We were only able to find the right Asda buns in the South to test with 50 consumers, but the results are still valid. We initially tested each bun without tasters being aware of the brand or price, to get a clear response on product qualities.
What makes a good Hot Cross Bun?
So what makes a perfect Hot Cross Bun? A good bun is a complex blend of tastes and textures, with ‘a good shine on top’ setting up expectations of a ‘really moist’ bun with ‘lots of fruit’, that is ‘sticky and moreish’ to eat. Ultimately it’s all about taste and the lingering flavours in the mouth from the fruits and spices.
Spice proved the key to a traditional Bun. Without it, a Hot Cross Bun becomes too similar to a Teacake. Consumers craved the aroma and warming aftertaste of mixed spice. The only product that came close to offering this was M&S.
Being loaded in fruit was not necessarily what people wanted. Most of our Buns had a generous fruit content. But while consumers looked for a good amount of fruit, even more important was its distribution throughout the bun. Too fruity and the texture became too moist and stodgy (a trap that Waitrose fell into), and also overly sweet. Finally, consumers wanted a light, soft texture – one that tastes freshly baked. Asda got marks for its lighter, almost ‘spongy’ mouthfeel.
Who does them best?
There was a similar standard across all the brands, with little to choose between any of the 10 pre-packaged products tested. We expected M&S to set the standard and they didn’t disappoint. Even in blind testing they were best for taste and ticked all the boxes in terms of product delivery. Despite a premium price of £1.60 for 4, M&S was still a popular buy; ideal to leave the packaging around to impress visiting friends and family. Another premium retailer, Waitrose was more disappointing and failed to live up its brand and price point.
Lidl won the battle of the Discounters. Even before price reveal, Lidl was a strong performer, delivering a generous fruit content and came second for strength of flavour and amount of spice. At 89p for 6 over half of testers were committed to buying, top of the rankings and significantly ahead of rival Aldi. Aldi was altogether less impressive, languishing at the bottom of the list on many key taste measures, with half as many committed buyers as Lidl once the price and brand were known.
What about the battle in the middle ground? Whilst there was little to choose between any of them two groupings emerged, with Asda top of the leader board followed by Sainsbury and the Co-op just ahead of Tesco, Greggs and Morrison’s on the key differentiator of taste. With only a 20p price difference between the Big 4 retailers (all 6 packs apart from Asda which came in 4’s like M&S and Waitrose) commitment to buying followed a similar pattern.
Find out how each retailer performed here. Click here to see (PDF format)