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THE PRICE YOU PAY

Dunkinflation: Even Boston’s go-to breakfast spot has gotten pricier

You’re not imagining things. Your coffee and hash browns cost more than they used to.

A black coffee and chocolate frosted donut are arranged for a photograph inside a Dunkin' location in Mount Washington, Kentucky, on Jan. 30, 2020.Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg

You’ve seen it. You’ve heard it: Dunkin’ — New England’s popular breakfast food franchise, the wind beneath our regional wings — has become more expensive.

This past year, customers have frequently taken to the Internet to complain about the rising cost of their daily Dunks fix. Gone are the days of a $3 latte. The $2 iced coffee happy hour special? Dead. This is the era of Dunkinflation. Mel Magazine reported that one customer paid $8.79 for a medium oat milk coffee and two wraps. In Vermont, you’ll pay $7.18 for tomato pesto grilled cheese and $4.79 for a large iced latte, according to a Reddit user in May.

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Of course, that’s all anecdotal evidence.

The Globe visited three Dunkin’ locations in Greater Boston this week to check out the situation firsthand. A reporter scoured Yelp for receipts from those more innocent pre-pandemic times, a.k.a. 2019 and early 2020. Then, we went to the same stores and replicated the order. Here’s what we found.

The receipts

First, coffee.

Popular Yelp user Vivian C. posted a partial menu from the Dunkin’ at 235 Washington St. in October 2019. Back then, a medium latte — hot or iced — cost $3.89. On Wednesday, a hot medium latte was still went for $3.89. But iced? Fifty cents extra, $4.39.

What about a no-frills black coffee? In June 2020, Dunkin’ published a manual on how to mobile order that included a receipt from a made-up downtown Boston location at 220 Boylston Street (The Four Seasons across from the Public Garden). It said a medium hot coffee cost $2.67. We couldn’t go back to a store that never existed, so we analyzed three spots nearby: the Dunkin’ around the corner in the Massachusetts Transportation Building (8 Park Plaza), the one across town inside North Station (100 Legends Way), and the Washington Street location. There, a medium hot coffee costs $2.85, $2.95, and $2.99 before tax, respectively — up to a $0.32 increase.

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And if you’re looking for alternative milk, think again. Older reports say that Dunkin’ does not charge extra for adding oat, almond, or coconut milk to hot or iced coffee. The 50-cent surcharge supposedly only applied to lattes and other milk-based espresso beverages. But at a Newton store we stopped into, that’s no longer the case.

In January 2020, a Twitter user paid $3.25 for a medium cold brew coffee with almond milk and sweetener, without no extra dairy-free fee, at 1148 Beacon St. This week, the same drink cost $3.55, plus a $0.50 surcharge, for a total of $4.05.

A January 2020 Newton Dunkin' receipt (left) shows a $3.25 cold brew with almond milk and sweetener. The same drink cost $4.05 pre-tax this week.@skenniston on Twitter & Diti Kohli/The Boston Globe

We can’t forget breakfast. In March 2019, a Yelp user posted a receipt showing $2.19 for a Wake Up Wrap with bacon and $0.99 per six-piece order of hash browns at North Station. Now the wrap sold for $2.65 and the hash browns, $1.29 per order. The six-piece hash browns were even steeper at the Washington Street location, at $1.39.

A March 2019 receipt from the North Station Dunkin' shows cost $4.17 for three breakfast items. That same order cost $5.23 this week.Damaris H. on Yelp & Diti Kohli/The Boston Globe

And for anyone still going to Dunkin’ for a donut, those went up, too. A chocolate glazed with sprinkles cost $1.55 at Washington Street in 2019, and $1.79 today.

The analysis

People have long been used to paying higher prices for coffee at Starbucks or higher-end local chains, like Thinking Cup and Caffè Nero. But Dunkin’ has maintained its middlebrow reputation for years, even though the Canton corporate office allows individual franchises to set their own prices. (The Dunkin’ website confirms that locations are “independently owned and operated,” though the company did not return requests for comment.)

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But in recent months, franchise owners have been hit with inflation just like everyone else. Dunkin’ uses 100 percent Arabica coffee beans from Central and South America, which costs $2.13 per pound this month, according to research from data technology company Knoema. That’s more than double their $1.04 per pound price in February 2020.

Much of that coffee comes from Brazil, the world’s largest producer of beans. But Brazil has been experiencing severe droughts that reduced the 2020-2021 harvest by 30 percent compared to the previous year, and by 23 percent compared to the five-year average, Knoema found. NPR reported that in 2020, Brazil had one of the lowest rainfall readings in the coffee-producing areas in the last 90 years. So supply is way down.

Then, consider what else is in your order. Plastic, the primary product behind Dunkin’s cups and straws, hit record-high prices last year, Bloomberg reported. Milk costs 16.4 percent more today than June 2021, and other dairy products, like creamer, are up 15.9 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The price of sugar and sugar substitutes has risen by 11.4 percent, too.

Then there’s the essential ingredient of labor, which is in short supply and driving wages up nationwide — a reality that has likely impacted local Dunkin’ spots.

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It’s all coming together in your coffee and, inevitably, in your wallet.

The Price You Pay is a new, occasional series on the rising costs of things we buy every day, and economic reasons behind the uptick.


Diti Kohli can be reached at diti.kohli@globe.com.Follow her on Twitter @ditikohli_.