It may be hard to remember today—with Instagrammable walls of doughnuts gracing weddings and travel networks producing doughnut-themed shows—but the flavorful fried treats have been around for what seems like forever.
That’s why, in spite of the moment doughnuts are having, Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania–based Duck Donuts doesn’t consider its product trendy, but rather as traditional. Part of the brand’s motto is keeping it simple; everything revolves around hot, fresh, doughnuts. Simplicity—like doughnuts—is timeless, founder and CEO Russ DiGilio says. That hardly means Duck Donuts is standard. Its cake doughnuts are made to order with fully customizable toppings, and the entire process, from frying to topping, is visible through a window. “It’s quite a show,” DiGilio says. “The experience is unique, and you end up with the best doughnut you’ve ever had. Still, we don’t get too unique with what we offer—we try to keep it familiar to our customers.”
Duck Donuts didn’t set out to produce a trendy food. When it began in Duck, North Carolina, in 2007, doughnuts were just doughnuts. DiGilio and his family missed the doughnut shops that used to be scattered along the boardwalks of the Outer Banks, and so DiGilio decided to create one. After a few years of slow but steady success, it began to franchise, working with some of its many customers who had visited the beach-themed store and expressed an interest in taking the concept back to their hometowns. The fast, organic growth took off before the doughnut moment began, which indicates to DiGilio that the brand isn’t based on a trend but, instead, will be around for a long time.
When limited-service brands find that their product has become trendy, benefits and challenges alike arise. For fast-growing, Santa Ana, California–based Nekter Juice Bar, the changing attitudes that have accompanied the increase in health food’s popularity are a good thing. Whereas people used to consider healthy food a bland, unattractive sacrifice, it’s now known as a delicious, enjoyable lifestyle component, and CEO Steve Schulze sees juices as part of that lifestyle.
But, despite the benefits that increased popularity of health food can bring to a juice bar, he says he wasn’t trying to capitalize on the juice trend. When Nekter opened in 2010, it got three to five franchise requests a day. Schulze turned them all down until a few years later, when the brand was established and he had proof of the concept’s success in different kinds of markets.
“I didn’t want to take advantage of the moment of juice,” he says. “If we had, we would have expanded earlier. I think there’s always going to be a demand for juice; it’s healthy. With that said, I think that there’s a balance with what you want to do with health.”
Schulze sees one of the main causes of bubbles in the health-food industry—including juice bars—as an overreliance on easy answers and fad diets. He says that juice bars are too eager to take advantage of the trend toward added fillers like teas and yogurt, and rely too much on cleanses or incorporating their product into sensational diets. “That’s not sustainable. It can’t be all juice or all bowls. It has to be a balanced diet,” he says.
Maintaining that messaging and educating guests about the role that unprocessed, cold-pressed juices can have in a sustainable, healthy lifestyle is key to Nekter’s strategy to avoid getting caught in a bubble. Though the website and blog are filled with information, the majority of customer education happens through guest interactions with highly trained and supported team members.
These interactions, in addition to a high-quality product, maintain Nekter’s authenticity, and Schulze believes that authenticity will keep Nekter around for the long haul.
“You have to stay true to who you are and have a good product that resonates with people,” he says. “You can’t just chase a trend. We are encouraging health.”
Florian Radke, cofounder of the Berkeley, California–based vegan bakery concept Cinnaholic, doesn’t worry much about a vegan food bubble. He sees vegan food as revolutionary rather than trendy. Nevertheless, when Cinnaholic began in 2010, there wasn’t a vegan trend.
Radke and his wife were turned down by investors because they thought no one would buy vegan desserts. They decided to make a product so good that people, regardless of diet, would want it, and those who cared about veganism or have food allergies would love it even more.
The strategy worked; within four years, people, vegan and otherwise, were traveling across bridges and from the airport during layovers to get hot, fresh cinnamon rolls that they could customize with more than 30 frosting varieties and toppings.
The brand went on “Shark Tank” and began to franchise rapidly.
Though Radke believes vegan food will be around forever, he acknowledges that there is always a risk of a bubble. “I think it’s a matter of keeping it really high-quality and making sure it’s something they’re treating themselves to and not something they get every day,” he says. “It’s a pricey dessert, but you can treat yourself a few times a week. That’s where it really works for us. It keeps us from a situation where people just get over it.”
Radke’s observation aligns with consumer trends showing that customers value quality over quantity. Sending the message that a product is not something you want to have every day also suggests to consumers that the product is not just a trend.
“People want to try a high-quality cinnamon roll. That’s what they’re excited about,” Radke says. “We see Cinnaholic as timeless because we’re entirely focused on creating the very best product.”
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