The Bottom Line:

  • Doughnut sales are strong
  • Consumers want a balance of tradition and novelty
  • Producers showing resilience in face of challenges

The craving for a doughnut—in its many sweet, sugary forms—continues to grow. Consumers are increasingly shopping for the bakery treats, with an appetite for both familiar flavors and novel tastes—and innovative producers are on the hunt for ways to deliver.

According to figures from IRI OmniMarket Integrated Fresh, a Chicago-based market research firm, sales of doughnuts saw strong increases in the past 52 weeks in both center store (up 19%) and perimeter (up 18%) sales (Total US Multi-Outlet w/ C-Store (Grocery, Drug, Mass Market, Convenience, Military, and Select Club & Dollar Retailers).

“Doughnuts continue to be a very strong category within the industry, as consumers purchase doughnuts at least once a week and often multiple times per week; according to the latest Datassential SNAP report, when it comes to food service, doughnuts have grown 16% on menus over the past four years,” remarks Jordan Kirisits, associate product manager, Value Added Bakery, Rich Products, Buffalo, NY. She adds that in-store bakery doughnuts have seen approximately 11% growth in unit sales over the past year, according to Nielsen figures.

Balancing act

Wil Torres, founder, and offensive coordinator, Golden Dough Foods, Winter Park, FL, says the continued consumer interest in doughnuts comes with a need to balance benefits like wellness and indulgence, and novelty and tradition. “Consumers across the board are looking to treat themselves and do so with premium offerings that satisfy their craving. They are looking for something familiar, yet are willing to leave their ‘meat and potatoes’ comfort zone to try a new flavor/flavor mashup. While the market sometimes leans toward healthy indulgence, there is still a major let of our population that want pure indulgence and are not concerned with whether or not the macros is good.”

According to Dustin Monke, marketing manager, Baker Boy, Dickinson, ND, these doughnut-hungry shoppers are seeking a mix of traditional favorites and new tastes.

“We see in our sales figures that both our retail and foodservice customers still prefer a strong mix of traditional doughnuts with new flavors and varieties,” says Monke. “That’s likely because customers are comfortable with these traditional favorites and in-store bakeries and foodservice operators can use these doughnuts to create a seemingly infinite amount of flavor options for the consumer.”

Pandemic impact

Much like other manufacturing-centric businesses, doughnut producers have had to deal with a number of pandemic-related challenges since the arrival of COVID-19. However, through some creative thinking, flexibility, and innovation, companies like Rich Products have endured.

“Fortunately, we’ve been able to maintain business operations throughout the pandemic,” says Kirisits. “Our top focus has been the health and safety of our associates and continuing to deliver for our customers.”

Monke says that while consumer cravings for doughnuts cooled at the beginning of the pandemic, the hunger has returned. 

“The pandemic obviously slowed down demand for doughnuts, and that tracks back to two things: consumer uncertainty surrounding fresh bakery items and lack of consumers walking the store floors,” explains Monke. “Now that life has returned to more of a pre-pandemic normal, our foodservice and retail customers have seen a normalization in their consumer foot traffic. That leads to more impulse-buy purchases, which includes doughnuts.”

Rich’s recently launched its Fully Finished Doughnuts line, which offers a broad array of options: glazed iced, yeast or cake, and specialty or filled. According to Kirisits, the products maintain their freshness up to two times longer than traditional bakery options, outlasting competitive products by as much as a full day. 

“We developed this doughnut line when we learned of the challenges many operators are facing with the current labor shortage and need to produce high-quality, further finished doughnuts,” Kirisits explains. “Our Fully Finished Donut line helps our customers solve these challenges by offering a unique, extended shelf-life which reduces spoilage, along with a consumer-validated fresh eating experience.”

Baker Boy also responded to the pandemic with product innovation: the company launched its Donut Hole individually wrapped doughnut offering out of pandemic-related concerns expressed by clients.

“The idea came after our team reached out to customers and asked what their needs were at the onset of the pandemic,” Monke relates. “The overwhelming majority of those we spoke with said they needed more touchpoint-free foodservice solutions. In response, we launched a line of individually wrapped doughnuts in unprinted packaging and saw immediate success in the school, healthcare, C-store, and supermarket categories.”

New flavors

Kirisits comments that while consumers continue to crave traditional doughnut options like glazed, chocolate, Boston crème, crullers, and the like, “new concepts are entering the market, including tres leches, mochi, and Mexican chocolate. Additionally, churro doughnuts have become more popular over the past year, available at restaurants, bakeries, grocery stores, and more.”

Courtesy of Golden Dough

Golden Dough launched its La Panaderia Dulce line in April 2022, a line of products inspired by Hispanic consumer tastes. Torres says the idea came through a unique source of inspiration.

“This line came to be in the middle of the night; not sure what I was thinking about before bed, but my grandma made it into my dream, and I woke up knowing I had to launch a line with some personal meaning tied to my Hispanic roots. My grandmother was one of the most influential people in my life, she still is just from above, and our new branding and logo is a caricature of how I remember her.”

The concept for the Latino-flavored line came to him in his dream, but many reasons for launching, Torres explains, were grounded in the real world. “The more I dug into it within the pastry subsegment, the more I saw that there was a significant gap in Hispanic flavor-forward doughnuts, so it accelerated our flavor R&D to meet the April launch.”

The size of it

When purchasing doughnuts, shoppers are increasingly adding minis to their carts.

Courtesy of Golden Dough

“With shareable items continuing to grow, the need for bite-sized and mini doughnuts has increased dramatically, particularly for celebrations and group events,” Kirisits says. “Additionally, they allow for snacking and portion control, which allows for consumers to further indulge.”

Kirisits also notes that while mini doughnuts are increasingly popular, consumers remain interested in full-size doughnut options.

Monke reports that Bakery Boy has seen increased interest in its minis—particularly Mini Cake Doughnuts with Cinnamon Sugar, which come in 144-count cases with cinnamon sugar packets, which the operators have the choice to use or omit.

“What’s so cool about this product is that operators have chosen to use it in a variety of ways,” he says. “We have some large convenience store chains that are packaging them as you’d expect – in cups, clamshells, or bags – both inside and outside of a warmer, but we also have foodservice customers using the mini doughnuts at restaurants as desserts or appetizers. We even make a whole grain version that K-12 schools have fallen in love with because it allows them to provide their whole grain requirements to students with far less waste that other bakery products.”

Courtesy of Rich's

Consumer connection

Doughnut product providers endeavor to keep ahead of evolving consumer demands in a variety of ways. For example, Rich’s has an internal Research & Insights team that partners with key industry providers, leveraging customer and consumer insights. 

“Rich’s has many touch points with our customer marketing and sales teams to enable deeper relationships with our customers and partners,” says Kirisits. “We frequently host consumer sensory panels and focus groups to validate new product offerings and concepts, while utilizing the latest industry trends to innovate within our doughnut category.”

According to Monke, a recent check-in with consumers led to Baker Boy discovering a need and delivering with a new product.

“For Baker Boy, it’s about talking and listening to our customers, as well as fielding inquiries from potential new customers looking for something they can’t get anywhere else. Earlier this year, we learned from some of our customers that there was a large, perhaps even desperate, need in the bakery marketplace for paczki dough and paczki shells. These seasonal, and often regional, products are fried and then filled to the brim with a variety of fruit and cream fillings and are sold in late January and February to coincide with Fat Tuesday celebrations. Baker Boy, knowing we have the ability to craft the best doughnuts in the bakery manufacturing industry, formulated paczkis and are selling them this winter for the first time in our company’s long history.”

Torres says the team at Golden Dough works to stay ahead of doughnut consumer trends by looking outside the wholesale baking industry. 

“I love the CPG industry and enjoy reading and researching trends across all segments; I also keep an eye on what's being done at the local level in pastry shops, ice cream shops, restaurants, or even in local grocery stores. At the end of the day it's hard to fully reinvent the wheel, but we can sure innovate on it.”