Gluten-free foodies have something to celebrate as Dunkin’ Donuts is reportedly gearing up to release a nationwide line of gluten-free products. The Massachusetts doughnut company will be the industry’s first fast-food chain to introduce gluten-free pastries.
The coffee and breakfast chain owned by Dunkin’ Brands Group Inc (DNKN) will sell gluten-free cinnamon-sugar doughnuts and blueberry muffins across its U.S. stores this year, according to Bloomberg News.
“We recognize the importance of providing our guests with many options, including alternative choices for people with food and dietary restrictions,” Stan Frankenthaler, the company’s executive chef, told Bloomberg in an email. The pastries, to be sold at participating shops, are packaged separately to avoid contamination from other foods that contain wheat flour.
While the release of a gluten-free line of products might come as a surprise to some consumers, the company reportedly began testing the foods back in December at a few locations in southern Florida and the Boston area. A representative for Gluten Free South Florida told the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness that the doughnuts were “dangerously delicious.”
Gluten-free diets have recently been recognized as the only medically accepted treatment for celiac disease -- an autoimmune reaction to eating gluten. The disorder affects about one out of every 133 Americans, according to the University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center’s website.
As some consumers might speculate that Dunkin’s gluten-free products might be an all-around healthier alternative to its original line of products, the wheat-free doughnut actually has 320 calories, while a glazed doughnut has 260 calories. Furthermore, the gluten-free blueberry muffin has 400 calories versus 460 for the standard version and 410 for a reduced-fat one.
Even so, a gluten-free label may lure customers and help boost Dunkin’ sales, according to data obtained by Bloomberg from researcher Nielsen. U.S. sales of items labeled gluten-free were $19.7 billion in the year ended May 11, topping revenue for items identified as cholesterol-free, multigrain or high-fiber, according to the data.
Dunkin’s gluten-free doughnuts will sell for $1.89, while muffins will go for $2.39.
In related news, the company also recently announced plans to expand its franchise operations to the West Coast. According to Dunkin’ CFO Paul Carbone, the company has been targeting California with its coffee ads since 2010, despite having no plans to open up shop there until 2015. “By the time we’re in California, they’ll have seen five years of national media focused on beverages,” he said while speaking at investment bank Jefferies’ annual consumer conference.
Dunkin’s plan of expansion will certainly pose a threat to competitor Starbucks, which operates more than 2,000 stores in the state of California.
Today, Dunkin' Donuts operates around 7,400 U.S. stores, with its core business in New England, New York and other eastern markets including Pennsylvania and Florida. The chain broke ground in Las Vegas in 2005, marking its first big westward move. The aim, Carbone said, is to have 15,000 outlets up and running in the next few years, with California stores accounting for a significant chunk of this new real estate.