Why cake donuts are flourishing

by John Unrein
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Duck Donuts
Duck Donuts features a made-to-order system that allows customers to choose their own cake donut toppings and icings.
 

KANSAS CITY — To track the phenomenal growth rate of cake donut sales in America, one must go back in time to the beginnings of this trend in 2013. For exmaple, four years ago, Duck Donuts opened its first franchise store in Williamsburg, Va., and Hurts Donut Co. opened its first store in Springfield, Mo. Duck Donuts sells cake donuts exclusively, and Hurts Donut focuses primarily on cake donuts, which account for roughly 70% of sales.

Since that time, Duck Donuts has grown to more than 50 locations, with another 130 under contract, in 22 states. Hurts Donut, now a $23 million company, is up to 15 stores, with nine pending, in nine states. The two businesses lend credibility to the claim that cake donuts rank among the hottest selling sweet goods at retail bakeries in America.

Tim Clegg, Hurts Donut
Tim Clegg,  co-founder of Hurts Donut

“Today’s reality is much bigger than our original dream," said Tim Clegg, who founded Hurts Donut with his wife, Kas. "We work nonstop tirelessly seven days a week. We’ve got our hands full. There’s no sitting still in our lives.”

Meanwhile, Russ DiGilio, founder of Duck Donuts, transformed a his desire to enjoy a fresh, warm donut while on vacation with his family into one of the most successful donut franchises in the country. Everything is made to order, and customers choose their icing, topping and drizzle.

Russ DiGilio, Duck Donuts
Russ DiGilio, founder of Duck Donuts

“Customers like having the opportunity to customize, and Duck Donuts is able to provide customers with a product that exactly meets their sweet desires,” Mr. DiGilio said.

And, because Duck Donuts makes only cake donuts, there is no time-consuming process involved in letting the dough rise, which is necessary in the production of yeast-raised donuts.

Duck Donuts relies on the Donut Robot Mark V from Belshaw Adamatic to make its cake donuts fresh and made to order.
Duck Donuts relies on the Donut Robot Mark V from Belshaw Adamatic to make its cake donuts.
 

The proprietary donut mix comes ready to use at store level, and batter is dropped one ring at a time into a Donut Robot Mark V from Belshaw Adamatic. The all-electric donut machine has the capacity to make 56 dozen standard-size donuts per hour, according to Belshaw Adamatic.

“We can make fresh donuts in just a few minutes,” saidLou DeFratti, general manager at Duck Donuts in Kissimmee, Fla., the company’s first franchise store in the state. “This machine is very efficient.”

Customers receive a custom-made fresh donut in less than 5 minutes. Top sellers include Mr. DiGilio’s favorite: vanilla frosting with powdered sugar and shredded coconut icing with raspberry drizzle.

Duck Donuts breakfast donuts
Duck Donuts offers four kinds of breakfast sandwich donuts.
 

Duck Donuts also sells four kinds of breakfast sandwich donuts.

“I wish I’d have thought of that,” said one veteran bakery owner when asked to comment on the made-to-order model employed by Duck Donuts.

Meanwhile at Hurts Donut, co-owner Tim Clegg recalled the early trials and errors of offering any unusual topping they could imagine, including potato chips, Cheetos and all types of sugar cereals.

“At first, it didn’t matter what we put on a donut," he said. "It sold."

Hurts Donut
Hurts Donut offers a range of toppings, from candy to pretzels to bacon bits.
 

Top sellers now include maple bacon bars, cotton candy donuts and any assorted toppings ranging from breakfast cereal to Nutella swirled into the shape of an emoji. Hurts Donut recently unveiled a “gluten free-ish” donut, which comes with a disclaimer.

“For someone who’s chosen a gluten-free lifestyle, it’s an option,” Mr. Clegg said.

On the equipment front, Hurts Donut uses fryers from Belshaw Adamatic at all stores.

Hurts Donut gluten-free-ish donuts
Hurts Donut recently unveiled a “gluten free-ish” donut, which comes with a disclaimer.
 

“We opened our original store with just one fryer and a makeup table," he said. "Fifteen stores later, we use all Belshaw Adamatic equipment. We really like it.” 

And instead of heading off to the grocery store to get inspiration for wild donut toppings, as they did initially, the donut stores now order 20-lb boxes of candy and other bulk sweets from their distributor. Mr. Clegg credits Dawn Foods for helping them transition to a profitable business model with a solid handle on food costs and operational efficiency.

“Dawn helped us with training and product sourcing,” he said. “They are an outstanding company to work with. It’s a great partnership.”

Hurts Donut clown
For Halloween 2017, Hurts Donut introduced the Creepy Clown delivery man, a unique promotion that went viral on social media.
 

Hurts’ concept is a 24-hour bakery that specializes in handmade donuts topped with quirky ingredients. In addition, the bakery offers delivery in its Emergency Donut Vehicle “ambulance.” For Halloween 2017, Hurts introduced the Creepy Clown delivery man, a unique promotion that went viral on social media.

“I gave an interview this morning to 'The Today Show',” Mr. Clegg said.

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