Monday, March 12, 2007

Mr. Donut Feels the Krispy Heat

This is Shari's husband, which means this post must be about donuts. (As they say, you have to go with your strengths.) This morning, for the first time in quite a while I took the three-minute bicycle ride to our local Mr. Donut to get a little sugary breakfast. I saw that there's been one significant change since I was last there: their raised glazed donut, called a 'honey dip,' has been redone. It used to be that it was glazed only very lightly, more along the sides than the top. Now, the glaze is clearly being applied from the top down, there's more of it, and it's presented to customers on wire racks, not in bunches on its side like all other Mister Donut donuts. On the card that identifies the donut, it says 'Rich Donuts,' with some Japanese text about why it's now even better than it used to be.

The ad for the new donuts from Mister Donut's web site.

I found this all very amusing, because it couldn't be more obvious that this is a reaction to the massive (so far) popularity of Krispy Kreme in Japan. The irony is, at least from my point of view, that this donut is still nothing like Krispy Kreme's raised glazed; what's unique about Krispy Kreme is the soft, chewy donut, not the glaze, and the inside of this Mister Donut donut is no different than it used to be. Then again, in Japan, appearance tends to matter more than substance.

Since there's still only the one KK shop in Japan, KK can't be biting into Mister Donut's profits yet, but Mister Donut is clearly not blind to the threat KK represents. Since I wrote about the Krispy Kreme in Shinjuku three months ago, the line one must stand in to get a donut has only gotten longer; the usual wait is an hour, and it can often be an hour and a half.

One student said that there was a long line at 6:30 a.m., a half hour before they open; another said he tried to get in a not-too-long line at 10:30 p.m. only to be told that no further people could get in line, so the shop could close at 11:00 p.m. as scheduled. Most of my students remain mystified as to why so many would wait for so long for donuts, and ascribe it to Japan's well-known herd mentality, the desire to jump onto the current boom. This causes me to wonder if KK can make it in Japan in the long term; what will happen as more shops open, the lines get shorter, people decide that KK is no longer 'hot' and go back to Mister Donut?

Many readers may not have been in Japan long enough to remember the Belgian waffle fad, but there were long lines in front of those shops for a while. We won't know if KK will make it in Japan until at least a few dozen shops have opened. I have no specific knowledge of new shops opening, but if I were them, I'd do it slowly, lest the boom suddenly go bust. Also, KK has an Achilles heel in Japan: some students have said KK donuts are 'too sweet,' a common Japanese comment regarding any American snack food. (Mrs. Fields and Cinnabon failed in Japan because of such sentiment.) Mister Donut may need only wait it out, and keep the Belgian waffles in mind.


CMUwriter said...

Hey Shari's husband, I'm surprised, I know you're mentioned a lot in the blog, but I don't remember ever coming across a post where you're actually writing about something. I was wondering if you had a coffee/donut place in japan called Tim Horton's? If you know your hockey history, then you would know that Tim Horton was a canadian hockey icon, who opened a chain of donut shops (If you know what I'm talking about this will be for the benefit of your readers who may not know what I'm talking about).

Anyway Tim Hortons is to Canada, as McDonald's is to the United States; that place is huge. Now they are starting to leak down from Canada into Michigan. To make a long story short they make these crullers that are to die for. I have never been in there early enough in the morning to actually get one hot, but I have had one reheated in the microwave, and they were awesome.

shari's husband said...

Yeah, I've heard of Tim Horton's, mainly because when KK opened a Canadian co-worker pooh-poohed it, saying it was nowhere near as good as Tim Horton's, which I then looked up on the Net. Looks good, but being from the West Coast, I've never had a chance to try it. I grew up on Winchell's donuts, which I regard as superior to KK. But no, Tim Horton's hasn't made it to Japan. Too bad; I'm always for more donut options.

CMUwriter said...

One of the best places to get donuts in michigan was a chain known as Detroit Donuts. They just had a good selection, with cake donuts, sour cream donuts, and anything else you could imagine. They have since closed thier doors, but I'll always remember thier good donuts, an good coffee.

It sort of puts a bitter taste in my mouth seeing all these chain donut shops cropping up everywhere, even though they make a good product. One of my first jobs in high school was as a donut glazer at a bakery in my hometown. I used to have to be there at 3:30 in the morning, and glaze, fill and decorate hundreds of donuts, so I'll always have a soft spot for the mom and pop places, and even the small Detroit Donuts chain.

As far as Tim Horton's goes they make some good donuts, they have nice bagels, but thier coffee taste like it was wiped up from the counter with an old sponge, then wrung into a paper cup.

Leo said...

I also found Krispy Kreme's donuts to sweet for me and I've been known to inhale a few dozen at a time. I actually prefer the donuts from the local Mom n' Pop type shops. I'm not necessarily against chains, I just prefer the types served at these shops. The only Krispy Kreme shop in the area closed only after a few years. I was surprised since every time I drove past it, there were a fair amount of cars in the drive-thru and parking lot. But this was when they were closing shops after expanding too fast.

Shari said...

Hi, Leo, long time no see. :-) I wondered how you were doing on your progress in getting to Japan.

I guess that KK is a bit like Starbucks in that they're willing to risk expanding too rapidly if it gives them a shot at increasing marketshare in the places they manage to succeed in.

One thing is for sure, the only one open in Japan couldn't possibly do more business than it's currently doing.

Anonymous said...

How are you doing? Things are fine here.I'm surprised they don't
open more check out registers. Perhaps they like the long line.I think
these donuts have too much sugar. I think KK should offer them in
a "light" version w/ less sugar and more bread flavor.p.s. I like the
graphical style of Shari's website !glenn

Nanny Haha said...

Krispy Kreme are the best donuts ON EARTH (and they come from North Carolina, my home state, so I'm especially filled with pride). I would not be surprised if Japanese people lined up from Hokkaido to Nagasaki in a single, straight, un-broken chain to get at one of those glazed wonders. Maiu! :)