'No respite between holidays!' Hot cross buns' early arrival prompts joy and fury

·4 min read

For years supermarkets have released hot cross buns well before Easter, and as the yeasted treats arrive, so too does the pro- or anti-bun outrage.

“No respite between holidays!” my mum texts me on 3 January, after sighting off-white crosses on New Year’s Day. “Buy buy buy pure consumerism in your face!” She insists she’s only mildly annoyed by the baked good’s drawn-out shelf life, but similar sentiments spread across mainstream and social media like melting butter.

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“We don’t even get the 12 days of Christmas now. It’s Christmas Day then straight into the 90 days of Easter,” one tweet reads. Another emotes: “F@#$ sake #Coles supermarket! It’s only been 2 days since Chrissie, give it a bloody rest!!”

Historically, hot cross buns were only eaten on Good Friday, and occasionally at Christmas or burials. In fact in 1592, Queen Elizabeth I officially decreed it, and any buns illegally made outside those events were handed over to the poor. But growing demand in recent years has brought the sales of hot cross buns forward. In 2020 Coles launched its full range of hot cross buns nationwide on Boxing Day, while Woolworths’ arrived on 30 December, a date advance of three day’s compared to 2020’s 2 January release.

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“Early sales of hot cross buns last year tell us there’s very strong demand to see the Easter treat on shelves as soon as possible,” says Coles head of bakery operations Shaun Percy. Coles sold more than 66m between their Boxing Day 2019 launch and Easter 2020, including 1.6m in the first five days, and nearly 12m in the week ending Easter Monday.

Related: How to eat: hot cross buns

In 2014 the CEO of Ferguson Plarre Bakehouses, Steve Plarre, penned an open letter to the managing directors of Coles and Woolworths, imploring them to delay the sale of hot cross buns, suggesting they sell the same buns with a smiley face instead of a cross to preserve the significance of the holiday.

“As I sit watching my two-and-a-half-year-old daughter enjoy what Santa brought her this year, I can’t help but fear that our next trip to the shops will see Christmas fade too fast with her being subjected to an onslaught of Easter bunnies and hot cross buns.”

But in fact, some Coles stores have been selling the traditional flavour year-round since August 2019.

“Coles stores are still able to offer buns all year round, however the range is limited to a small number of the most popular varieties and in the lead-up to Christmas many of our in-store bakeries stop making buns so that they can focus on providing customers with other products. Once Christmas is over, they are able to produce buns again, and in a wider variety of flavours than were available at other times of year,” a Coles spokesperson told Guardian Australia.

Related: Felicity Cloake’s hot cross buns recipe | Felicity Cloake’s masterclass

Huw Murdoch, owner of Wild Life Bakery in Melbourne’s Brunswick East, is certain seasonality drives their sales. “People are always really keen to start buying them, and they’re always a little bit sad to see them go, but no one ever asks during the year if we even have something similar,” he says.

Like many small local bakeries, Wild Life only offers them during the Easter period, kicking off about a month before the holiday.

“It’s the busiest time of year for us and bakers get a little bit sick of it because they have to make thousands,” Murdoch says. “On a busy weekend day we might make a couple of hundred croissants and a couple hundred loaves of bread. On Good Friday [2020], we had pre-sold 1,500 hot cross buns before we even opened the door.”

With Woolworths forecasting 77m hot cross bun sales in 2021, we may be stuck in the cycle of buns after Christmas (and hot, cross comments) well into the future.

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