Travel

Pork, wasabi cheese, or Kit Kat doughnuts? Dunkin’ adapts for international tastes

The interior of a Dunkin' Donuts in Hilversom, Netherlands. In Europe, stores are designed for customers who are in the habit of sitting and enjoying their coffee rather than taking it to go.
Floortje Visser
The interior of a Dunkin' Donuts in Hilversom, Netherlands. In Europe, stores are designed for customers who are in the habit of sitting and enjoying their coffee rather than taking it to go.

“Yo quiero un Delirium,” I said in wobbly Spanish as I attempted to order a decadent looking doughnut covered with chocolate icing, pecans, and garnished with vanilla drizzle. I took a bite, and inside was a rich custard called manjar blanco.

I can say with certainty that it was my first time ordering anything at Dunkin’ Donuts in Spanish. It was also my first experience with manjar blanco.

If I were in Boston I probably wouldn’t have given that ubiquitous pink-and-
orange sign a second thought. But I was in Peru, and here was a Dunkin’ Donuts in the middle of the posh Miraflores neighborhood of Lima. As a native New Englander and close friend of carbohydrates, I felt it was my duty to check it out. Also, after a long day of exploring Lima, I was hungrier than a 1950s housewife on a strict diet of cottage cheese and canned peaches.

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The Delirium sat alongside a pistachio-frosted doughnut adorned with rainbow sprinkles. Nearby was a much more familiar looking doughnut called Boston Crema. If I need to translate Boston Crema for you then your Spanish is even worse than mine.

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The Delirium was comfortably familiar, but just exotic enough to remind me that this doughnut was not sold in Southie. Please don’t tell my pal Jenny Craig that I consumed the entire thing.

Dunkin' Donuts
The rose cream doughnut, sold at Dunkin’ Donuts stores in Lebanon.

When I travel I tend not to eat at chain restaurants that I can easily find in the United States, but I am oddly fascinated by the offerings at foreign fast food outposts. When I was in Belgium I tried McDonald’s McWrap (filled with beef, vegetables, and tzatziki sauce) and in Hong Kong I became obsessed with the chain’s black and white burgers. The noir bun of the black burger is colored with squid ink. I can’t get enough of these pop culture kitchen idiosyncrasies.

Before you foodies start thinking I’m some sort of provincial dolt, please know that about 98 percent of my meals are consumed at local eateries when I travel. But I enjoy seeing different chain offerings in far flung locales. It often feels like entering an alternate universe.

Canton-based Dunkin’ Donuts, which has more than 12,500 stores in 46 countries, sells charcoal doughnuts and rice doughnuts in South Korea. There’s a fish flake doughnut in China, mango doughnuts in Thailand, and a triple chocolate doughnut in Columbia. You can enjoy a rose cream doughnut in Lebanon, a black cheese doughnut in Indonesia, Kit Kat doughnuts in Spain, and in the Netherlands you can try a stroopwafel doughnut. The one flavor that’s available in every store in every country is Boston Cream.

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“There are some really unique designs and some unique flavor combinations that come out of our different international markets,” said Mark Youngworth, vice president of international brand marketing for Dunkin’. “We have teams that look at what’s happening in the area and then they can create different style doughnuts that make sense.”

That means Dunkin’ Donuts can’t simply set up shop in China and start selling jelly-filled doughnuts.

Dunkin’ Donuts
The pork floss doughnut, sold at Dunkin Donuts stores in China.

“Sweet isn’t always what people want in a doughnut,” Youngworth said. “So sometimes you have to think through savory, like the pork floss doughnut in China. That’s what makes this so exciting and so fun. We get to travel and try all these different combinations.”

I sat down with Youngworth and a few other Dunkin’ execs to get a first-hand account of the differences between US Dunkin’ Donuts and the brand’s international presence. They patiently answered my questions, such as, “Can you please call your assistant and have him ship a dozen pork floss doughnuts to my home address, please?”

The answer to that one was no.

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Finding the right doughnut to match a country’s appetite is essential because outside of the US the chain sells more doughnuts than coffee. Yes, you read that correctly. The word “Donuts” will not be dropped from the chain’s name at any point in the near future outside of the United States.

“We’ve been very much focused on doughnuts in the international market,” said Dunkin’ Donuts CEO Nigel Travis. “But we’re trying to make it much more focused on what is really strong here, which is beverages.”

In the United States, approximately 58 percent of Dunkin’ Donuts sales is beverages and 42 percent is food, which includes sandwiches and baked goods. In Latin America, the breakdown is 80 percent doughnuts and 20 percent beverages, and in China the mix is 75 percent doughnuts and 25 percent beverages. But the company is hoping to even out the mix.

“We went into Dunkin’ India because we believed the coffee will continue to grow, and it has,” Travis said.

In addition to a different palate for doughnuts, other countries have different tastes in coffee. In Europe, Southeast Asia, Latin America, and China, lattes are more popular. Americano is the favorite in South Korea. In the United States and Saudi Arabia, customers veer toward the brand’s original blend drip coffee.

Not every country has embraced the restaurant that we see on nearly every corner in New England. The chain tried the Chinese market in the 1990s and in 2008 with poor results before returning two years ago with a more local-friendly menu. Expansion has been difficult in Canada because Tim Horton’s rules the doughnut-and-coffee roost to the north. In Iceland, eager patrons lined up in the streets of Reykjavik for a taste when the chain opened two years ago. Last year the flagship store on popular Laugavegur street closed, although four others are still in operation there.

But Dunkin’ Donuts thrives in other international markets. Stores opened in Russia before California. South Korea is a huge market for the chain, and in the Middle East, where date doughnuts are popular, customers consume drip coffee much the way they do in the United States.

Food and beverage is one aspect of selling a US fast-food concept to a foreign country. Store design is just as critical. Not everyone grabs a cup of ice coffee and rushes to the office in the morning while applying their lipstick and mascara in the car. Europe is a café culture, and restaurant design needs to reflect that.

Dunkin’ Donuts
The date doughnut, sold at Dunkin' Donuts stores in the Middle East.

At the newly opened Dunkin’ Donuts in Amsterdam, the mugs are ceramic and the bakery case is glass and set up in the style of a European patisserie. They’ve even incorporated Delft tile, a traditional tile from Holland, into the décor. But there are still splashes of Americana on the walls.

“There’s more wood and more warmth,” said Heidi Cron, design manager of international store design and construction. “It feels a little bit more refined. Just a little bit more welcoming for everybody. You don’t see a lot of people walking around with coffee in other countries. They sit and socialize.”

This more sophisticated café design was also used in some stores in Chile. It’s a dramatic contrast to the chain’s concept store which opened in Quincy earlier this year. While Quincy is all about speed, the Amsterdam store is all about taking a break with an espresso and a doughnut.

Despite the differences between Dunkin’ Donuts of Europe, the new Dunkin’ in the United States — and those savory doughnuts in China — the one universal trait that unites us all is that omnipresent and comforting Boston Cream doughnut.

Christopher Muther can be reached at muther@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Chris_Muther and on instagram @Chris_Muther.