2013 Was a Momentous Year for Buns

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Around this time last year, quick-service restaurant insiders were predicting that 2013 would be a big year for buns. The year didn’t disappoint.

By the fall of 2012, the trend involving specialty breads and unusual wrappings for burgers, chicken sandwiches, tacos, and other fast food items had already been born. Because such items were proving to be both popular and relatively cheap, it seemed inevitably that buns would continue to be hot in the months ahead.

Now that 2013 is coming to a close, Burger Business, one of the sources forecasting big things for buns, offers a look back at the Year of the Bun. The retrospective features large chains like Sonic, which branded burger buns with the logos of local colleges, and McDonald’s, which has been hosting a “Breads of America” line in France, with bagels and cornbread subbing in for the usual burger buns. One-of-a-kind restaurants made the list as well, including a few that used glazed donuts or Cronuts (trendy croissant-donut sensation) as buns. (Dunkin Donuts, of course, led the way in the donut as sandwich bun category this year.)

Meanwhile, “The most talked-about burger bun of the year,” according to Burger Business, “was the pretzel bun, and Wendy’s led that bandwagon with its Pretzel Bacon Cheeseburger.” In its 2013 quick-service restaurant trend roundup, QSR Magazine agreed, calling pretzel bread the year’s “it” ingredient. “Perhaps no item captured the public’s attention this year quite like the pretzel bun,” the report stated.

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Beyond Wendy’s, pretzel bread popped up as a hot ingredient on the menus of Blimpie, Sonic, and Dunkin Donuts, among others. “The pretzel bun and other creative bread carriers are an offshoot of the artisanal trend that has been growing,” Mary Chapman, director of product innovation for the restaurant research consulting firm Technomic, told QSR Magazine. “People are interested in trying different types of breads, and these pretzel buns have a great taste and texture.”

Yet even as Wendy’s and its Pretzel Bacon Cheeseburger have gotten terrific buzz, the chain has already pulled in the plug on its promotional burger—at least for now. All along, the Pretzel Bacon Cheeseburger was planned as an LTO, or limited-time offer. The oft-used fast-food strategy entices customers to bite at least partially due to the understanding that if they don’t get a taste now, they may lose out.

Businessweek chronicled a few of the social media lamentations of Wendy’s fans saddened or downright angry to see the Pretzel Bacon Cheeseburger disappear from the menu recently. It’s not like Wendy’s is giving up on specialty buns, or bacon for that matter, however. A new brioche bun, specifically the Bacon Portabella Melt on Brioche, is now featured on menus.

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And other fast food chains continue to be hot on specialty buns as well. As Nation’s Restaurant News pointed out, Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s recently launched a campaign advertising their new “hot buns,” a.k.a. Fresh Baked Buns, which are baked in-house daily and served with the chains’ top-of-the-line burgers. So bun lovers, rejoice. The days of ample bun selection aren’t behind us.