Delicious donuts continue to captivate the interest of bakers and consumers alike.

The simple appeal of a donut ranges from tried-and-true yeast-raised, glazed rings and traditional cake donuts to gourmet additions that showcase unique toppings, exotic flavors and surprising sweet and savory mashups. No longer relegated to breakfast and early morning office meetings, donuts are becoming an increasingly visible medium that’s connecting consumers with the magic happening inside the bakery, creating a veritable Theater of Donuts.


Box Office Bakery Magic

Donuts continue to be a “bright spot” within the bakery category. Coming in at $5083.2 million, donuts are in the top three for sales of bakery products in the U.S., according to Statista, June 2018.

Available in every price range and easily portable, donuts suits consumers who are on-the-go as well as appealing to those who prefer a hint of creativity in their sweet indulgence. In all categories, donuts deliver. Clyde’s Donuts finds the indulgent aspect of donuts make it an excellent impulse buy and value-add to the basket. The company, based in Addison, Illinois, offers instore bakeries and private label manufacturers a Total Donut Solution with Ready to Finish, Ready to Sell and Ready to Serve options.

“There’s an emotional connection to enjoying a donut,” says Josh Bickford, executive vice president, strategic initiatives, Clyde’s Donuts. “Tried-and-true varieties like glazed rings or sprinkled donuts can bring back a sense of simpler times and with increasing demand for combining flavors into new creations, there’s always an opportunity to excite the customer with something new.”


Expanding Cast of Players

Bickford says donut programs continue to be an important and growing part of the bakery. As evidence, he cites the innovative use of exciting colors and flavor combinations as a way stores are targeting donut impulse buys. While sales of freshly made yeast-raised and cake donuts remain popular, some instore bakeries are looking for new ways to gather attention in the competitive donut landscape by adding gourmet options to their line-up.

Recognizing gourmet donuts as the next big thing, Dawn Foods, Jackson, Michigan, shows operators turnkey ways to elevate donuts into a profit-growth segment. The company offers producers product ideas, ingredients, recipes, training and marketing materials in the category. Despite high consumer demand for upscale versions, Dawn Foods cites less than 10% of operators plan to add gourmet donuts.

With no established definition of gourmet, it remains up to the bakery to imagine what gourmet donuts can be. For many, a gourmet label includes the use of premium ingredients like real sugar and chocolate with higher percentages of cacao that provide a vehicle for cleaner labels free from artificial flavors and colors. Premium ingredients also mean bakeries can charge a premium for their donut offerings. In evidence, bakeries in San Francisco, Miami and Washington, D.C. are currently pricing gourmet donuts in the range of $3.35-$3.50.


Backstage Processes

Because consumers “taste” with their eyes as well as their mouth, any donut worth buying must possess both a desirable mouthfeel and great visual appeal. Determining this balance necessitates finding the right donut frying shortening, whether that’s liquid, palm or palm oil blends, interesterified soybean oil or lard and tallow animal fats.

“Frying oil is important to a donut – after frying, oil comprises nearly 22% of the finished product,” says Jamie Mavec, senior marketer for Cargill’s Edible Oils business in North America. “The oil used to fry the donut determines its surface texture and color, the glaze adherence and overall visual appeal during its shelf life. However, oil options are not a one-size-fits-all proposition. Cargill’s donut frying experts have fried thousands of donuts to learn not just how to fry a good donut but what makes a good donut.”

Cargill, Wayzata, Minnesota, has conducted extensive lab testing on its PalmAgility™ and Regal™ donut fry shortenings, finding both options perform very well on key attributes like set-up time, flavor and mouthfeel, freeze-thaw stability and reduced oil weeping, according to Mavec.

The Cargill Food Innovation Center features a fry lab with a donut frying station to allow technicians to study and evaluate donut frying performance, providing customers with insights on optimizing operations and problem solving.

Customers of AIB International in Manhattan, Kansas, want customized training offered in their facilities and on their equipment, says AIB's Mark Crouser. In response, the company developed its BakePro Certification, which focuses an entire week of training on the improvement of a single product.

Launched at IBIE 2019, BakePro Certification also includes online learning. In-person and online instruction covers topics like process control, function of ingredients, product scoring and troubleshooting. After the weeklong program, AIB continue to coach Certified BakePros for six months. 

Mike Baxter, product information and marketing coordinator at Belshaw Adamatic, Auburn, Washington, regularly works with instore bakeries to troubleshoot and improve their in-house donut programs. One of his recommendations includes filtering donut oil daily in addition to scheduling a regular boil out for fryers. The less-than-10-minute daily task can eliminate a smoking fryer, save costs and produce better donuts, according to Baxter.

The company’s robotic donut systems are increasing the safety of bakery employees with automatic frying, leaving no one standing over the fryer. Increasing the safety and efficiency of fryers becomes even more important when considering the growing demand for different sized donuts. In response to the trend for larger donuts, Belshaw Adamatic has expanded the capability of its automatic fryers. For bakers who need to work ahead to create larger batches, the company offers the ability to reheat at point of sale (POS) using the company’s BX Eco-touch convection oven.


Window Dressing – Display Cases

Donuts freshly made or reheated at POS further benefit from being showcased in the right display cases with proper lighting to maximize product appeal, increase product integrity and lower labor cost. Dover Food Retail, Conyers, Georgia, is a manufacturer of refrigerated, hot and dry display cases, dry shelving and counters designed to help bakeries create the best presentation and keep food in its freshest state.

Dover Food Retail’s design specialist Jack Sjogren recommends bakers consider specific products and menus before making an equipment selection. He says dissatisfaction can occur when customers base their decision on what they see displayed in other stores and then merchandise different product in their store. Sjogren recommends bakeries focus on exterior lighting, case lighting and how much volume or linear foot is needed on service versus non-service. Products such as vertical glass merchandisers are also recommended to increase capacity and reduce glare on glass, improving aesthetics.

“It’s important to think of the bakery department as an entire entity instead of piecing it together,” Sjogren says. “To have a successful department, all items and process flows must work together. This helps to prevent margin bleed within the department. The right design can help a bakery stay cleaner, remain current and drive additional sales.” 


Window Dressing - Labels

Beyond the store’s display case, labels are instrumental in helping a bakery’s brand stay front and center in the consumer’s mind. It is also the one piece of advertising a retailer can place directly in the consumer’s home for the life of the product. Yerecic Label, New Kensington, Pennsylvania, supplies pressure-sensitive labels designed to strengthen private label brands and showcase freshness by highlighting when and where products were made. The company regularly sponsors consumer research to ensure they’re incorporating the latest design and information into its labels.

The Yerecic Label sales team also tours retailers across the country to determine market trends for later sharing with the company’s internal team and customers.

“Labels are essential to the retail experience yet are often not thought of until the last minute,” says Elizabeth Yerecic, key account manager. “Focusing time on creating a consistent, on-trend, informative labeling program gives your customers confidence in your store as well as a reason to become a loyal customer.”

Part of maintaining loyalty is keeping consumers abreast on how the bakery is looking to meet the latest trends. Large-scale bakeries like Wegmans, Costco and Whole Foods use Belshaw Adamatic’s Ventless Insider Kiosks to make donuts in front of customers, applying the Theater of Donuts concept to catch the eye of consumers. Belshaw Adamatic also supplies donut proofers, fryers, icers, glazers and depositors and offers convection, deck and the new Oven-2020 rack ovens and proofers, all made in America.

As a “go-to specialist” for donut production, Belshaw Adamatic understands the needs of bakeries to imagine the next generation of products. Baxter regularly teams up with store directors, managers and employees to help decide what products to supply and what will go into the next generation of products, including how to modify and improve equipment over time. For example, stores with a basic donut depositor can add Churros to their donut program with the addition of a Belshaw Adamatic Churro plunger.

“We like to think that a donut program is one of the things that place a store at the heart of a surrounding community,” Baxter says. “Donuts are something customers notice and appreciate. It should be the kind of program that the store, employees and customers can all get behind.”


Average Donut Pricing

San Francisco: $3.50 per donut

Miami: $3.46 per donut

Washington DC: $3.35 per donut

Chicago: $3.23 per donut

New York City: $2.98 per donut

Los Angeles: $2.80 per donut

Tampa: $2.80 per donut

Source: Dawn Foods


Attributes most dependent on oil selection:


External texture


Oils weeping

Adherence of the glazes or powdered sugar

Source: Cargill