Coffee Culture
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Imagining the Dunkin’ Donuts Identity Outside of New England

Today I conclude my January 2013 blogging and this series of four posts, each covering sections from my paper, “Dunkin’ Donuts: A Site and Source of Bostonian Identity.” Here you can find posts onetwo, and three

In the global marketplace, Dunkin’ Donuts provides a unique case study of coffee consumption as an expression of identity, particularly in opposition to Starbucks, which has so powerfully shaped coffee culture worldwide. While the Dunkin’ Donuts coffee identity is uniquely salient in Boston and New England, the role and meaning of Dunkin’ Donuts also carries weight in other U.S. cities and in the international market, providing areas for further research.

Photo from bananacheesepie Tumblr

Photo from bananacheesepie Tumblr

For example, a study that identified devout Dunkin’ Donuts and Starbucks drinkers as “tribes” was conducted in cities outside of New England, in Phoenix, Chicago, and Charlotte. While the specific reasons for brand loyalty may vary in each city, Dunkin’ Donuts marketing strategies target some of the same cultural components that they do in New England. For example, the Dunkin’ Donuts brand is repeatedly linked to sports mania wherever possible, sponsoring the Chicago Bulls, Indiana Pacers, Washington Wizards, and Charlotte Bobcats (NY Sports Journalism 2010) and in 2009 Dunkin’ Donuts was named the official coffee of the Dallas Cowboys and Dallas Stadium. While the local meaning of Dunkin’ Donuts likely varies in the United States from place to place, it consistently asserts a specific identity in opposition to that of Starbucks and is worthy of additional study.

Just as the relationship between brand and consumer identity varies across the United States, Dunkin’ Donuts has created a different identity in the international marketplace as well. For example, Dunkin’ Donuts currently operates 900 shops in South Korea alone (Dunkin’ Donuts Press Kit, 2012), offering standard menu options, as well as specialized items, including soy donuts and 12-grain lattes made with barley and brown rice (Jargon & Park 2009).

Inside a Dunkin’ Donuts in Korea (Photo from Cute in Korea blog)

Different than stores and customer patterns across New England, Korean Dunkin’ Donuts shops feature lounges for lingering in, furnished with plush pink and orange chairs, Wi-Fi Internet access, and plasma-screen televisions. Just as Chinese populations have experienced McDonalds in culturally specific ways dramatically different from Americans (Yan 2008), Korean consumers view Dunkin’ Donuts as a hip place to dwell.

In such a way, Dunkin’ Donuts speaks to the globalization of food, revealing an example of a franchised global entity experienced as local practice that varies from place to place. What remains to be seen is if the local identity of Dunkin’ Donuts that resonates so powerfully in Boston can be transplanted and grown in new environments—or will it remain a New England phenomenon?


  1. Emily, I love that you’re talking about this! Where I grew up, in Oregon, no one ever went to a Dunkin Donuts for coffee. They only went for donuts. The shops are all closed now though, after DD closed down pretty much all their shops west of Chicago (except apparently not Phoenix?) In any case, I was stunned when I moved to Boston. I’m not sure that anything, in this case a restaurant, can be transplanted in a new place without adapting to that place and its own identity.


  2. Pingback: 5 Posts to Celebrate National Coffee Day | Emily Contois

  3. Mary Jane Bradrick says

    I visited the Museum of Appalachia over the weekend and “learned” that the founder of Dunkin’ Donuts was a relative of the local people there in that area of Tennessee, and the family name was in fact “Dunkin.” That surprised me and I thought I’d come upon a “Did you know…?” with which to amuse and amaze my friends. Now I find after a little research that that is at odds with what is written as fact. I emailed the museum and they are fact checking. What do you think? The museum has become a part of the Smithsonian and it seemed to me, until now, that there was diligent research done on artifacts, etc. Maybe it had just become a handed-down story in the Dunkin family and not verified??


    • emilycontois says

      Hi Mary Jane. What an interesting contradiction! I have not heard that fact before, but origin myths are so intriguing in part for the points where stories conflict. Some people interpret the brand name as the act of “dunking” the donut into one’s coffee. If you hear back from the museum, I’d love to know what you find out – and thank you for reading and commenting!


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