A hot topic: very cross about the buns

On my continuing travels through popular culture land, I’ve noticed more and more signposts to Cultural Awareness. I’m sure that the Internet, social media, citizen journalism etc have all contributed to this, and I first really took notice a few years ago in the lead up to and after Australia Day.  My 2009 post Australia Day – by jingo all the way outlined my concerns and continues to get hits to this day, so I know I’m on to something that clearly hasn’t gone away, and that’s a good thing.

However, right now, it’s the discovery of hot cross buns in the supermarkets in early January that is raising some questions.  What at first, on my behalf at least, seemed to be misplaced moral outrage (I’m not a practising Christian after all) has now turned into a deeper inquiry.

Deep?  About hot cross buns?

Well, yes, because in my quest to test the temperature of the cultural waters, so to speak, I thought I’d have a look around Facebook and see what I could find.  There are two Facebook pages devoted to the hot cross bun – one for and one against – and both started early last year.  One page looks to have been set up by two young dudes from the UK (“no to hot cross buns lol”) but doesn’t explain why they’ve taken their stance, and has no contributions past the initial post so I’m leaving that alone.

The second page, however, is very active (“I would buy and eat hot cross buns all year long as I love them!”) and got me thinking in two directions. First, I was very sceptical because the founder of the site is only listed as ‘hot cross bun lovers of Australia!’ and gave a very eloquent and considered explanation of why she (I assumed) had set up the page, including comments about not wanting to offend Christians, and the bun’s Pagan origins. I smelled a commercial rat.

However, upon reading further the author does in fact disclose herself as a ‘poor housewife’, so I have disposed of my supermarket marketing conspiracy theory … for now.

Which brings me to the second point, and it’s quite a simple one:  if the supermarkets/ bakeries aren’t selling hot cross buns all year round to please the ‘poor housewife’ and her friends, but instead are respecting (?) the buns’ links to the Christian tradition, just how can they justify their being on sale from early January?

Before doing any further research on the answer to this question, I had in the back of my mind some anonymous, generic soundbite from a radio interview along the lines of, “we here at Woles supermarkets are responding to consumer demand.” Or something.

The problem is I’ve never known any of my family, friends or colleagues to loudly complain, in early January, “Gee, I wish Easter would hurry up because I’d kill for a hot cross bun right now.”  So then I had a look around online, and … there is so much coverage on this!  And not just forums and blogs, but ‘news’ stories!

The Ballarat Courier ran a story on 5 January on the appearance of not only hot cross buns, but also chocolate eggs.  It quotes Woolworths spokesperson Luke Schepen as saying that the supermarket introduced them in the first week of January in stores across the country, and had done so for years:

“It simply comes down to customers like them in the New Year.  We sell hot cross buns up until Easter and we sell quite a lot.”

The story goes on that Mr Schepen said a limited Easter egg range was brought out at this time of year, which included Cadbury Creme Eggs, a popular seller.

From the news.com.au stable, up at the NTNews site on 5 January:

But Woolworths public relations manager Clare Buchanan said the food giant has sold hot cross buns on the first Monday of the New Year for a decade.

“They’re popular. We can’t sell what people don’t buy. People love hot cross buns,” Ms Buchanan said. Territorians are expected to eat two and a half million hot cross buns by Easter.

Two and a half million! By my calculations, using the current catalogue price for reference at $0.62 each, that’s over $1.5 million in the NT alone!

Interestingly, going back almost exactly 2 years, and further east on the Courier Mail site from 2 January 2008:

“The products are in most of the stores . . . Easter is early this year and we sell these products after the New Year’s period,” Woolworths spokesman Luke Scheten said.

“They are going to be available until the Easter period and there is consumer demand for them.”

Brisbane Anglican Assistant Bishop John Parkes said it was a rather strange choice considering Christians were still celebrating the Christmas period.

“For Christians, Christmas Day is just the beginning and the 12 days of Christmas are not yet up,” Bishop Parkes said.

“I would like people when they ate a hot cross bun to reflect on the cross and what it might mean in our society.”

Which brings me back to the main points:

  • Are the supermarkets selling them to help all the Christians out there celebrate Easter?
  • Are they selling them because “sell them and they will come”?

You don’t really have to look too hard to find the answer, do you.

So, hot cross bun sellers of Australia, do the ‘poor housewife’ and her friends a favour, and give the rest of us a bit of credit for seeing through your marketing transparency.  How about baking buns to the same recipe but put dollar signs on the top and sell them all year round, and save the versions with crosses for those who enjoy the food link to their chosen religious ritual in March or April.

And, for the record, I don’t even like hot cross buns.

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