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Why Dunkin' Gave Away Doughnuts Today

Handing Out Its Signature Food Item Is a Good Way to Stand out in Coffee Wars

By Published on .

CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- Giveaways have become a standard feature of nearly any big fast-food push, especially of late, but Dunkin' Donuts' doughnut handout today is unusual.

The doughnut-specific promotion gives Dunkin' a way to differentiate itself in an increasingly cutthroat category: coffee.
The doughnut-specific promotion gives Dunkin' a way to differentiate itself in an increasingly cutthroat category: coffee.
Dunkin' Donuts is capping off a six-week, $10 million campaign with a massive doughnut giveaway and the big reveal on a consumer-generated-doughnut contest. As part of Dunkin's celebration of National Doughnut Day, consumers can have a free doughnut of their choice all day -- with purchase of a beverage.

The caveat is significant: The chain hasn't done a big campaign for its namesake product in more than a decade. Dunkin's iconic "Fred the Baker" proclaimed it was "Time to make the doughnuts" from 1982 to 1997. Since then, the chain has focused on its coffee, which has developed a feverishly loyal following and makes up 60% of its $5.5 billion in sales. Doughnuts make up 20% of annual sales.

For a retailer such as Dunkin', coffee makes sense, said Darren Tristano, exec VP of Technomic, a research and consulting firm for restaurants and food suppliers. Not only does it raise check averages and operating margins, it also gets more repeat consumption during the day.

"If you were to look at the number of occasions when consumers order coffee and nothing else, you have an incredible, untapped opportunity," he said.

But the doughnut promotion gives Dunkin' a way to differentiate itself in an increasingly cutthroat category. "You don't see doughnuts at McDonald's. Krispy Kreme is a competitor, but Starbucks isn't serving them," Mr. Tristano said. "It serves as a great reminder to come in for a coffee, and by the way, we have the best doughnuts." Besides, as a sweet, under-a-buck treat, doughnuts seem like an easy recession sales pitch.

Jeff Hager of Hoover, Ala., created the winning "Toffee Your Coffee" doughnut. It was selected from 130,000 submissions and ultimately 12 finalists. It's a glazed, sour-cream-cake doughnut with Heath Bar crumbles. Mr. Hager wins $12,000, and his doughnut will be sold at Dunkin' beginning this fall. Other finalists included a variety of over-the-top creations, such as a bananas-Foster-filled doughnut topped with shredded coconut; a chocolate-mint Bavarian-cream-filled doughnut with white icing and blue and green sprinkles; and a chocolate cake stick filled with marshmallow, topped with chocolate icing, Hershey's cinnamon and vanilla shavings.

"From office meetings to Sunday get-togethers, doughnuts are one of those foods that lift people's spirits and bring genuine delight to any situation," Frances Allen, Dunkin's brand-marketing officer, said in a statement. "And now more than ever, Americans are seeking those small moments of happiness. We hope our free-doughnut offer will create an opportunity for people to celebrate doughnuts and bring some extra happiness to their day."

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