Comforting familiarity and a relatively low price point have made glazed donuts a go-to breakfast item for generations of Americans. Traditionally, half of most in-store donut displays are made up of glazed varietiessays Tim Busta, category manager at Dawn Foods, Jackson, Mich.
Hostess Brands Inc. confirms that “America’s favorite donut flavor is glazed,” and Dunkin’ Donuts reports that two of its three top sellers are glazed and chocolate glazed. However, Busta says newer flavors with flashier facades are nudging their way into–and beyond–the breakfast niche.
In supermarkets, it makes sense that in-store-fried donuts might need to doll themselves up to compete with lower-priced varieties consumers can find in the other aisles. While market research group, NPD, Port Washington, N.Y., reports that overall donut consumption has been relatively stable between 2008 (2.9 billion purchased) and 2010 (2.7 billion), researchers at Mintel point out that sales of donuts from in-store bakeries dropped by about four percent between 2009 and 2010.
Hostess is hoping to keep that trend going with this summer’s introduction of a pre-packaged iced devil’s food cake with chocolate icing, says Mike Touhey, vice president of snack marketing. The development of the new flavor combination was based on “quantitative research which revealed that more interesting, more indulgent iced and powdered varieties are showing stronger growth than glazed or plain,” he adds.
This seems to be in keeping with NPD’s findings that, while more than half of donut “eatings” are “in-home at breakfast,” 34 percent are consumed as an “in-home snack.” In an effort to extend these “eating” occasions, Stan Frankenthaler, vice president, executive chef–product innovation at Dunkin’ Brands, created simple yet imaginative make-at-home snack and dessert recipes, such as Cocoa Donut and Strawberry Grilled Cheese, to encourage consumers to think of and use the company’s products in new ways. He also emphasizes the 330-calorie-count to show that donut desserts don’t have to be diet-breakers.
To increase the appeal of in-store-bakery-produced donuts as more of an “experience” than mere hunger appeaser, many stores are tending to lavishly accessorize ready-to-finish varieties with premium toppings. Candied walnuts, cream cheese icing with red velvet crumbs, spicy chocolate-chili icing, as well as products with salty/sweet accents, such as pretzel nuggets, salted caramel or bacon, are all possible, Busta says. Some bakeries that mix their own doughs also are going beyond the basic chocolate and vanilla and using lemon, orange, red velvet and other flavors to further jazz up their donut line-up.
As always, Dunkin’ Donuts is in-season and on-trend with special editions and limited-time offers, such as the heart-shaped Valentine’s “Cupid’s Choice,” (the company’s first shaped donut) filled with Bavarian creme and topped with strawberry icing and pink, white and red heart-shaped sprinkles. A few tweaks, including changing the filling to jelly and the topping to vanilla icing with a chocolate drizzle, turned this same donut into a “Royal Wedding” specialty available for only five days in April, commemorating the nuptials between Prince William and Catherine Middleton, says Frankenthaler.
Dunkin’ also employs regional savvy to make its products distinctive and desirable.
Frankenthaler explains that “although our sour cream donut in Chicago, peanut stick in upstate New York and cherry cake donut in the South may not compare to the overall popularity of our glazed, chocolate glazed or chocolate iced, their niche appeal still allows them to hold a special place on our menu.
“Donuts are a great canvas for innovation,” he says. “From unique shapes and designs to flavor combinations, the ability to experiment with donuts is why they continue to be popular in the market."