Ronn TorossianRonn Torossian

There was a time when everyone knew what they could buy at Dunkin' Donuts. Coffee and donuts; simple, easy to remember and clear. Those days are gone. Today, even donut shops are expected to expand their menus to bagels and breakfast sandwiches if they want to keep up with the competition. But what do you do when what’s on the sign outside and all the branding inside doesn’t match what’s on the menu board?

Sure, you can still get donuts, but there’s so much more … and Dunkin' leadership wants customers to remember that when they’re deciding what to have for breakfast, especially when they’re on the go.

That’s why the company is about to reveal one store with a new sign out front. A sign with no more Donuts. Switching to just “Dunkin'” is not an idea the company is taking lightly, and they’re taking their time in this decision. Over the next few months, a few more “Dunkin'” stores will pop up here and there … but don’t expect a full-scale rollout any time soon.

While some company leaders have said they might make the change unilaterally sometime next year, no one is making any promises or planting any flags. At present, consumers are split on the idea. For a while now, customers have become accustomed to the slogan, "America runs on Dunkin'” … a campaign that could have served as a soft open for the eventual change.

But this name change is based on something more. Dunkin' wants to reposition its brand in the marketplace, even if it’s a slight shift. According to a recent press release: “We do not anticipate making decisions regarding our branding until the latter half of 2018, when we begin rolling out our new store image …”

Get that? New store image. Not just a name change, a positioning shift. Most believe the shift will put Dunkin' in direct competition with brands like Starbucks, moving from mostly donuts to a coffee shop that happens to serve pastries.

To some, it’s an interesting move and even a bit of a head scratcher. After all, Dunkin' Donuts is the undisputed king of the breakfast pastry market. The company currently commands 62 percent of the $14.6 billion donut industry in the United States.

So, maybe executives feel like they have enough of a lead in that market, that they can safely shift away from the familiar name. There’s precedent for changes like this, of course. Remember when KFC was actually Kentucky Fried Chicken? They added a ton of new menu items and decided just being “fried” wasn’t good enough anymore. Dunkin' may be thinking exactly the same thing. And, with a focus on the “Dunkin',” they’re easily putting the spotlight on the coffee rather than the pastry.

Of course, at this point, all of this is speculation. We don’t know if, let alone when, Dunkin' may make this change, and we don’t know what the consumer marketplace is going to make of it. Should be interesting to watch the process and it unfolds.


Ronn Torossian is CEO of 5WPR.