How Dunkin’ Lost the Donut

Growing up in New England, the Dunkin’ Donuts logo is as familiar as the Massachusetts license plate. Everyone knows the logo, and we know orange+pink= Dunkin’ Donuts. When the company rebranded itself as just “Dunkin’,” it raise a few eyebrows. It’s kind of Miley Cyrus deciding to become a one-named celebrity and just go by Miley. We still know who she is, but a piece of her origin appears missing. For Dunkin’, name is still recognizable, but donuts were always their staple product… right?

My Obsession With Dunkin’

Strawberry frosted doughnut from Dunkin’
Strawberry frosted doughnut from Dunkin’

Growing up on the East Coast, I spent more money at Dunkin’ than any other restaurant. I celebrated birthdays by bringing “Munchkins” to school, I spent drivers ed. going through Dunkin’ drive-thrus, and I saw New England athletes promote the brand at every game. Really, I couldn’t avoid it. I could pass by a Dunkin’ on the opposite side of the road knowing there would be another on my side of the road. You get the picture… Dunkin’ is ingrained into East Coast living. I couldn’t avoid it; I never stood a chance.

I’m not going to act like Dunkin’ has the best coffee in the world. It doesn't, but I do enjoy the coffee. It’s also cheaper than many alternatives like Starbucks but better quality than bargain coffees like 7/11’s. Dunkin’ is the right blend of taste, affordability, convenience, and consistency. It works well, so well that a whole coast of the country runs on the brand.

Then, I moved to the west coast. Are there Dunkins? Yes, but they are forcing themselves into Starbucks land. California lives on Starbucks, and I admit, I love Starbucks too. For Starbucks, the coffee has always been the focus. The Frappuccinos get all of the hype, but the coffee gets all of the returning customers. This made me wonder how Dunkin’ survives against a juggernaut like Starbucks and how they’d compete against them wild migrating west.

With most fast food restaurants, there’s a main item. McDonalds will promote their burgers, Subway their subs, and Popeyes their chicken. Based on name alone, you’d assume Dunkin’ Donuts focuses on their donuts. If that was your assumption, you’d be wrong. Dunkin’ focuses on the coffee more than anything else. I’d even argue that the donuts aren’t even the secondary item at Dunkin’, that honor goes to the breakfast sandwiches. For this reason, the shift away from “Donuts” starts to become more understandable.

Dunkin’: Donuts or Coffee?

Dunkin’ sign
Dunkin’ sign
Image via Omni Legal

For Dunkin’, expansion west seems to be the next step. Sure, they could try to add more to Massachusetts, but they’d need to add a second level to the state to fit more in there. There are over 1,100 locations in Mass. alone. While California has over 2,800 Starbucks, I guarantee the Cali. is less densely populated with Starbucks than Mass. is with Dunks. Still, this means Californians are accustomed to their Starbucks. Dunkin’ will need to know what they’re offering California to make their presence known.

What does Dunkin’ offer to California? It’s not the donuts. It’s the coffee.

More specifically, Dunkin’ makes their presence known with their unique flavors. Starbucks customers aren’t likely to switch to Dunkin’ just because it’s there. However, the promise of Girl Scout Cookie flavors in coffee may entice some people. Dunkin’s flavor offerings make their coffee more interesting treat than Starbucks, but less extreme than a Tie Dye Frappuccino. Once again, Dunkin’ strikes the perfect balance.

Having grown up in the mecca of Dunkin’, this is how they get kids hooked. I remember being in high school getting flavored coffees. Gradually, my coffees got stronger and stronger. I’d move away from the flavors and sweeteners, but I was still driving through Dunkin’s drive-thru. By the time I was in college, I was a Dunkin’ enthusiast. Even without easy access to Dunkin’, my fondness toward the brand remains untouched.

Moving into the future, the brand will continue to adapt to the changing consumer preferences. Their introduction of cold brew and advertising “all-day breakfast sandwiches” demonstrate the brand is trying to compete with other fast food and beverage companies (FYI, breakfast sandwiches have always be available all day at Dunkin’). Many brands are also taking a stance on health consciousness, and donuts don’t really fit into that movement. It seems Dunkin’ no longer wants to be known for its donuts when their efforts to expand emphasize different products.

The donuts aren’t going away: in fact, they’re present in most advertisements. When the company introduces a new beverage flavor there’s usually a complimentary donut. Any customer who enters a Dunkin’ will continue to be enticed by their bakery selection, but these offerings are just one option at the brand. Dunkin’ now offers much, much more than donuts.

Goodbye Donuts

Removing the Donuts from Dunkin’ Donuts doesn’t mean the brand is getting rid of the donuts. This name change is not a sign of a brand shrinking, it’s a sign of growth. When customers go to Dunkin’, they think of coffee, breakfast sandwiches then donuts. Really, this is a win for Dunkin’. They’ve offered other products that have become so synonymous with the brand that “donuts” doesn’t seem to do the brand justice.

If I’m being honest, I don’t think anyone is that upset about the name change. The majority of customers will fall into one of two categories: occasional visitors who make a couple yearly visits or hardcore enthusiasts. For the occasional customer, the name doesn’t hold much more meaning than a method of identifying the location. For the hardcore fans, we’ll always know the restaurant as “Dunks.” The second word isn’t important, we only need one syllable to know where we’re going.

User Analytics | Digital & Brand Marketing | Productivity … hoping to explore topics that interest me and find others with similar passions

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