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Roll out the Holidays: A look at the humble dinner roll



Nov 24, 2021

There’s an argument to be made that it’s the little things, the details, that make all the difference. In life and in meals. Big holiday meals may star a big turkey or ham but there are several members of a ‘supporting cast’ which help make the meal. Gravy. Mashed potatoes. Everyone has a favorite vegetable. And, of course, the dinner roll. 

Of all the components to a big holiday meal, the dinner roll is likely one of the least expensive. Price varies but it’s a good bet you can get a pack of fresh, fluffy dinner rolls for less than you’d spend on a cup of coffee and a pastry at any coffee shop with a barista. 

But price is not necessarily a measure of value. Most of us expect to sit down for Thanksgiving dinner or Christmas dinner and pass a bowl of dinner rolls around the table. So could you argue that the dinner roll has quietly become a holiday dinner essential?

To help answer this question and just generally find out what’s going on with dinner rolls, the Instacart Ads team checked the numbers. Utilizing Instacart’s rich datasource, which includes anonymized and aggregated insights derived from millions of orders over time from hundreds of different retailers, the team was able to analyze how and when consumers were buying dinner rolls on the Instacart marketplace. 

This article takes a look at some of the trends and insights we found interesting. 

When are consumers buying the most dinner rolls?

The first thing the team looked into was the timing of dinner roll sales on the Instacart marketplace. If the dinner roll is actually a holiday dinner essential we’d expect to see increased sales and increase household and basket penetration in Q4. 

Looking back several years, dinner rolls had large sales growth quarter-over-quarter (QoQ) in Q4— 

The lowest QoQ growth occurred last year, with ‘only’ a 54% sales increase. This can be explained in large part by the tremendous growth across the board as consumers turned to online grocery shopping in record numbers. 

In fact, the Q4 sales of dinner roles in 2020 was still 15% higher than during the peak pandemic surge of sales, orders, and new users on the platform. And when you look at the year-over-year numbers, Q4 2020 dinner rolls sales was up 268% YoY compared to up 89%YoY in Q4 2019. 

We see a similar trend in the timing of dinner roll sales on the Instacart marketplace when we look at household (HH) and basket penetration— 

What are consumers buying with dinner rolls?

One of the most insightful uses of our rich data set is looking at basket affinities to identify types of shopping trips — are consumers buying their dinner rolls as part of a regular weekly shop or in convenience baskets or maybe as a last-minute order or are they included in themed baskets focused on the big holiday dinner? 

By analyzing trends and accounting for products like bananas that show up in (nearly) every basket, we can construct a basket affinity index which measures the likelihood of dinner rolls buyers to purchase products compared with a general audience. So the higher this index for a given product or category, the more likely consumers buying dinner rolls are also buying that product or category.

Looking at basket affinities for dinner roles in the November to December timeframe, we found several categories which over-indexed in both months; cranberry sauce, gravy, pies, cinnamon and other sweet rolls, and mini marshmallows were among the top categories which over-index in both November and December.   

From these basket affinities, it seems clear that consumers buying dinner rolls in November and December are shopping for holiday dinner, grabbing classic condiments, sides, and desserts in the same shop as their dinner rolls. 

We also looked at some over-indexing categories that were unique to each month. In November, that was utensils & accessories, sparkling juice, pie filling, eggnog, and sides. While in December, the unique over-indexing categories were all purpose baking mix, meat condiments, BBQ and wing sauce, doughnuts, and pork. 

So are dinner rolls a holiday dinner staple?

Going back to our original question, we have some good evidence of the importance of dinner rolls at the holiday dinner table. We’ve got the timing of their sales, with Q4 sales spiking QoQ, and household and basket penetration also rising. And then the basket affinities show dinner rolls over-indexing with other holiday dinner staples — cranberry sauce, gravy, pies, among others. 

Taken together, it seems a strong bet that dinner rolls will be passed around many holiday dinner tables. Interested in learning more about how consumers shop online in categories relevant to your business? Partner with us to get access to in-depth analysis and on-demand reporting. 



Instacart is the leading grocery technology company in North America, partnering with more than 1000 national, regional and local retail banners to deliver from more than 75,000 stores across more than 13,000 cities in North America. To read more Instacart posts, you can browse the company blog or search by keyword using the search bar at the top of the page.

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