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The role and meaning of Dunkin’ Donuts Essay

Background of the study

The role and meaning of Dunkin’ Donuts in New England eclipses its local origin story. After successfully operating the Industrial Luncheon Service, serving factory workers during World War II from mobile carts, William Rosenberg opened the first Dunkin’ Donuts store ten miles outside Boston in Quincy, Massachusetts in 1950 (Rosenberg & Keener 2001). [If you’re not from New England, you might be as surprised as I was that this town is pronounced Quin-zzee.] Dunkin’ Donuts’ origin story is also relevant in comparison to other large coffee chains, particularly Starbucks. While Starbucks emulates a European coffee experience, Dunkin’ Donuts proudly promotes itself as American coffee, emphasizing the value of hard work.

Furthermore, Starbucks is framed as a product of “posthippie capitalism” (Sanders quoted in Simon 2009: 29) and often critiqued in an elevated way as a “cultural institution” akin to higher art located within a “historical trajectory” of long standing tradition (Dickinson 2002: 17-18). Conversely, Dunkin’ Donuts is a franchised chain built upon the American Dream story of William Rosenberg, a hardworking New Englander with an eighth-grade education who successfully built a coffee empire (Rosenberg & Keener 2001). From the start, Dunkin’ Donuts tells a specifically New England story, but the chain’s role as both a site and source of Bostonian and New England identity cannot be simply explained by the location of its first store.

Throughout decades of expansion, franchising, marketing, and repositioning, Dunkin’ Donuts emerged and remains a regional power brand, operating one store for every 5,000 to 6,000 people across New England (Rosenwald & Kirkham 2006) and outnumbering Starbucks ten to one (Carroll 2010). Not only in New England but across the nation, Dunkin’ Donuts experiences strong customer loyalty, sweeping the coffee category in the Brand Keys Customer Loyalty Engagement Index for the past six years (Dunkin’ Donuts Press Release 2012). Despite the donuts in its name, the chain does 63 percent of its business in coffee (Hoy 2006), which embodies a specific identity for Dunkin’ Donuts coffee drinkers in Boston. For more coffee chatter, join me next week when I’ll conduct a cultural coffee analysis, comparing Starbucks’ aspirational consumption to Dunkin’ Donuts’ functional fuel.


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