Top hot cross buns - new consumer study ranks 10 own-label treats

By Vince Bamford

- Last updated on GMT

Photo: iStock - monkeybusinessimages
Photo: iStock - monkeybusinessimages

Related tags Hot cross bun Spice

Consumers have spoken – the perfect hot cross bun offers a complex blend of tastes and textures, and has ‘a good shine on top’.

A new consumer study by Cambridge Market Research (CMR) – which works with many major UK manufacturers and retailers – has identified what British consumers want from the traditional Easter treat, and which retail chain offered the best own-label bun.

Researchers tested standard pre-packed buns from 10 major retailers with a sample of 100 hot cross bun buyers in the north and south of the country. Products were initially tested blind, with the tasters unaware of the brand or price (For methodology, see box-out below).

Ultimately, the success of a bun was down to the taste and the lingering flavors in the mouth from the fruits and spices, found CMR. Spice was the key to a traditional bun, and without it a hot cross bun became too similar to a teacake.

The study also learned that being loaded in fruit was not necessarily what people wanted, as too much could make the texture became too moist and stodgy. Consumers also sought a light, soft texture that tasted freshly baked.

Here are the 10 buns that were tested, ranked from highest scorer to lowest.

Marks and spencer

Marks & Spencer Luxury

Price:​ £1.60/four-pack ($2.27)Score:​ 81/100

Marks & Spencer set the bar high with these soft, moist and sticky buns. The sweet and zesty flavor perfectly counterbalanced the level of spice, resulting in an almost perfect flavor delivery, said consumers. Almost three quarters (73%) said they would buy these after sampling them.

Likes:“It’s sweet and spicy with a cinnamon kick”; “Really moist, lots of fruit, sticky and moreish”; “Good texture and a good shine on the top”Dislikes: “The appearance didn’t help convey how good it tasted”; “A little too sticky on top”


Asda Bakers Selection

Price:​ £1/four-pack ($1.41)Score: ​73/100

Praised for their soft, spongy and moist texture, Asda’s hot cross buns were a winner with consumers. Large and golden brown, they visually appealing and delivered a strong cinnamon aroma. Packed with juicy raisins and currants and flavored with just the right amount of spice, they left a strong aftertaste and lasting impression. Few could fault these buns.

Likes: “Good overall taste; rich and doughy”; “Soft, moist and just enough fruit”Dislikes: “The glazing on top could be better”


Lidl Rowan Hill Bakery

Price:​ £0.89/six-pack ($1.26)Score:​ 72/100

Lidl offered its shoppers fantastic value for money. Flavored with mixed peel and orange juice-soaked fruit, these delivered on flavor. Coming in joint third place, just over half of the testers (54%) said they would purchase these.

Likes:“Well presented, nice and shiny”; “Soft texture and a nice sticky glaze on top. Nice mixture of fruit and spicing”Dislikes:“A bit dry”; “Strong aftertaste”


The Co-operative Loved By Us

Price:​ £1.00/six-pack ($1.41)Score:​ 72/100

Filled with orange-soaked sultanas and spiced with cinnamon, coriander, cloves and nutmeg, the Co-operative put in a strong performance with these buns from the Loved By Us range. Consumers liked the strong, spicy flavor delivery, which left a pleasant aftertaste and lasting impression. Consumers rated these as superb value for money.

Likes:“It’s delicious. I love the plump raisins and the aroma”; “I like the decoration and the sheen on top.”Dislikes:“It’s a little bit doughy”



Price:​ £1.20/six-pack ($1.69)Score:​ 68/100

Golden and neatly decorated, Sainsbury’s buns stood out as particularly attractive, with high scores for appearance, color and decoration. Delivering an all-round high-quality bun, Sainsbury’s saw the lowest level of rejection with only one in three saying they would not buy these after tasting them.

Likes:“Fruity, fresh and traditional”; “It’s a fluffy dough, and the raisins were soft and chewy”Dislikes:“Not enough cinnamon and not enough glaze on it”; “Would be better toasted”




Price:​ £1.00/six-pack ($1.41)Score:​ 66/100

Failing to spark much enthusiasm among consumers, Tesco was rated fairly average across the board. These were considered more fragrant than Sainsbury’s but drier in texture than Sainsbury’s, Asda and Waitrose. Around half (52%) still rated these as good/excellent value for money.

Likes:“It’s really soft and fresh and not too sweet”; “Soft and spicy with a good distribution of fruit”Dislikes:“Too dry, more like a teacake”; “Too doughy and dry, not spicy enough”



Waitrose Richly Fruited

Price:​ £1.69/four-pack ($2.39)Score:​ 63/100

With plenty of raisins and sultanas, participants enjoyed the fruity taste of these buns. Despite the high fruit content, Waitrose failed to achieve the right balance of flavor and spice and consumers felt these failed to meet the expectation set by the premium positioning and price point. As a result, six in 10 said they would not commit to purchase them following trial.

Likes:“Spicy taste, lots of fruit and nicely decorated”; “Very fruity, fresh taste”Dislikes:“Too dense, too doughy and too pale”; “Bland, no aftertaste and no spice”




Price:​ £1.00/four-pack ($1.41)Score:​ 62/100

Consumers were left disappointed by the lack of fruit and dry texture of these. Not only did Greggs to deliver on texture but the taste was also considered too bland and lacking in spice. Consumers were left disappointed, with almost half saying the product was worse than they expected from this popular high street bakery.

Likes:“Soft and delicious”; “Subtle taste and nice color”Dislikes:“Doesn’t taste as good as it looks, slightly too chewy”; “Very bread-like”


Aldi Hot Cross Bun

Aldi Village Bakery

Price:​ £0.89/six-pack ($1.26)Score:​ 61/100

Having gained itself a reputation for offering consumers high quality products at low prices, Aldi’s Village Bakery Hot Cross Buns fell short on this occasion. Lacking in flavor and spice, and chewier and doughier in texture than other buns tested, consumers were left disappointed by the taste and texture of these. Despite offering good value for money, less than two in five of our tester would commit to buy these after tasting them.

Likes:“Nice size with a good amount of glaze”Dislikes:“A little too dry and not easy to chew”; “It felt quite heavy and dense”



Morrisons Baked By Us

Price:​ £1.00/six-pack ($1.41)Score:​ 56/100

Considered bland, with very fruit or spice, Morrisons’ hot cross buns received low scores across all product measures. More than half the testers said they would not commit to buying these.

Likes:“I like that there are not too many raisins in it”Dislikes: “Distribution of spice is poor”; “Tastes like ordinary bread as there is no spicy taste, and no visible fruit”

How the testing was conducted

hot cross bun

Hot cross buns were purchased from the shelf at 10 major retailers and blind taste-tested last month by consumers at two city center locations, one in the north of the England and the other in the south.

Each bun was assessed by at least 100 consumers, although CMR could not purchase the appropriate Asda product in the northern location, making the sample size for this bun 50 testers. The total sample was representative of the UK population as a whole in terms of gender, age and socio-economic group.

Consumers were initially shown a whole bun to assess appearance, color and aroma, and were then served an untoasted sample to taste. After tasting, the brand and price of each bun was revealed and participants asked to rate the bun on value, match with expectations of brand and intention to buy.

Total scores are rated out of 100 drawn from 10 key measures including Purchase Interest, Appearance, Aroma, Taste, Texture and Value for Money. Analysis of the data defined three key variables as being key drivers of consumer opinions and purchase intentions, and the results for each product were weighted dependent upon their performance on these variables.

For more detailed information on this research and the performance of each retailer’s hot cross buns contact Katie O’Brien on 01223 492050.

Related topics Business Cakes & pastries

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