Collaboration the Key to Dunkin’s Culinary Innovations

For businesses that cater to people on the run, the pace of product development has to keep up. In this episode of Mastering Innovation on SiriusXM Channel 132, Business Radio Powered by The Wharton School, Katy Latimer, Vice President of Culinary Innovation at Dunkin’ Brands Group, Inc., explains why collaboration is necessary when translating consumer trends down the pipeline.

With giant coffee brands like Starbucks to compete with, Dunkin’ has been challenged to differentiate itself, which Latimer says it does by focusing on great taste and speed of service. The key to their strategy has been close collaboration and testing between customers and the rest of the development team. According to Latimer, it takes a whole village to do innovation, from the culinary team, the nutrition scientists, commercialization engineers, operational partners, and franchisees. Together, they all play a role in developing new products and bringing them to life in the marketplace.

An excerpt of the interview is transcribed below. Listen to more episodes here.


Katy Latimer (VP Culinary Innovation, Dunkin’ Brands Group, Inc.)

Saikat Chaudhuri: How do you compete against other giants in the field such as Starbucks? Dunkin’ has been around for a long time, but perhaps was not initially known as the ones who would shake up the market. But now you are.

Katy Latimer: We are. And we’re doing it through great taste and speed of service.

Chaudhuri: How do you achieve speed of service?

Latimer: That is one of our innovation unlocks. As we’re developing new products, we’re always thinking, “How is our franchisee going to bring it to life in the store?” We work very closely in collaborating and testing out new operational models so that we’re delivering great-tasting products at the speed of Dunkin’. And it’s really to meet folks’ convenience needs in the marketplace.

Chaudhuri: How do you do that? What is your process for thinking about, say, “How can I rethink the store experience?”

Latimer: As we’re developing new products, we’re thinking about the placement of the equipment, how many steps it’s gonna to take the crew to execute. We go through rigorous testing process where we work closely with our franchisees and operational partners, test out the innovation, and then bring it into a market test before you actually see it ending up on the menu.

“It is like playing music. It all comes together in the end.” – Katy Latimer

Chaudhuri: Who is “we”? Is it people from your organization, perhaps in headquarters?

Latimer: It takes a village to do innovation. It all starts with the culinary design and the consumer. Then we bring it to life, partnering with our nutrition scientists, our commercialization engineers, our operational partners, our franchisees. It is like playing music. It all comes together in the end, and we launch these amazing products in the marketplace.

Chaudhuri: Sounds really easy, but I’m sure there’s a lot to it. Do you send people into the stores to observe how people are behaving and what they need?

Latimer: Absolutely. A lot of times in our testing process, we’re doing consumer intercepts to ensure that we’re meeting customer expectations. Sometimes, we’ll come back and we’ll tweak the recipe and the formula.

Chaudhuri: So you used a really interesting phrase which is, “translating consumer trends into products,” How do you know what customers want?

Latimer: We go through a lot of process, working with trends out in the culinary marketplace. Coupling our marketing team and our insights team, we look for those trends and translate them into a meaningful product that is inspired by guests, crew feedback, popular culture. We’re watching what’s happening in diets, for example, as well as indulgence, and trying to bring that to life in a new product. A great example is the Love & Kisses Sundae in Baskin-Robbins today. It’s a trio of ice creams, leveraging our Cherry Cordial with Kisses, Love Potion 31, and Very Berry Strawberry, and it’s a wonderful sundae for sharing. So that’s an insight of folks wanting to take a moment and share and indulge on occasion.

Chaudhuri: I love that. So take me through that. How did you come up with that? You observed that people love indulgence — which I do, too — and then thought of this thing? It can’t be that easy. It sounds pretty complex.

Latimer: It is pretty complex. But we think about the overlay of a theme, like Valentine’s Day, developing new products that will delight our consumers, and how we weave that story in those trends, whether it’s sharing or gifting. Our 10-count Munchkin Donut Holes is a wonderful gifting treat that you can get in the store now, or even the heart-shaped donuts, they’re just beautiful. And I don’t know if you saw on social media, some bouquets are being developed with our Valentine’s Day donuts as gifting opportunities, as well.

Chaudhuri: What’s interesting to me is that Dunkin’ is moving towards a more premium type of offering. We used to think of Dunkin’ in some sense as “pick up your coffee and go,” but it’s a lot more than that.

Latimer: Premium products are a trend, and consumers are looking for not only affordability but value in premium. If you look at our seasoned bacon line, for example, that’s done really well. Consumers love our seasoned bacon and look forward to seeing what new flavors we bring out.

Chaudhuri: How often do you have to bring out new products or flavors?

Latimer: It varies. Bringing in new items to the store is really important. We look across our portfolio where it makes sense. And what we try to do is pull through themes. Girl Scouts, for example, is a wonderful theme. We are offering three different flavor varieties, but we’re pulling that through both hot coffee as well as our espresso-based beverages, such as cold brew and also iced coffee.

Chaudhuri: So Katy, you were talking about the Girl Scout relationship, and I kind of noticed this also in reading, you like to partner with different firms who have different products but also stand for different things. How do you pick these partners to work with?

Latimer: We love partnerships with folks where we can leverage the strength of our brand plus their brand. And we ask ourselves, does it fit? Do we share similar consumers?

“Ideas come from so many places. We’re always looking for how to bring those ideas into our innovation pipeline.” – Katy Latimer

Chaudhuri: What kind of a team do you have? How do you organize it? How do you have people? How does that all work for others who want to be as innovative? It sounds like you are innovative and need to do it really quickly, because you constantly have to introduce new products.

Latimer: I have an amazing team. They’re world class. I have a team of chefs and food scientists. And they really bring it together. And we work very closely with our sensory insights team, as well as our marketing partners and commercialization engineers. And they all play a role in developing that innovation and bringing it to life in the marketplace.

Chaudhuri: Is there a very set process for how you go about uncovering customer needs, and then working towards producing some sort of offering that you might have in the store or, is it a bit more organic than that à la startups perhaps?

Latimer: It’s a mix. Ideas come from so many places, including guest feedback, franchisee or crew feedback, or from an experience one of our chefs had out in the marketplace. We’re always looking for how to bring those ideas into our innovation pipeline. Again, we go through a very rigorous testing process. A lot of things will fail early, but we filter that out so we really focus our resources on launching those big ideas.

About Our Guest

Katy Latimer is the Vice President of Culinary Innovation at Dunkin’ Brands Group, Inc., the parent company of Dunkin’ Donuts and Baskin-Robbins. She leads the teams for both brands, which together have more than 20,000 locations worldwide. With more than 25 years of experience in food science and culinary innovation, Latimer plans and manages the strategic development of new and enhanced menu choices. 

Prior to this position, Latimer was vice president of research & development for global beverages at PepsiCo. In this role, she led a 65+ person product development & culinary team, responsible for innovation and portfolio transformation for PepsiCo’s global beverage category, including the food service platform, North American Coffee and Pepsi’s Lipton Tea partnership. Latimer earned her bachelor’s degree in Biochemistry from McGill University in Montreal and a master’s degree in biotechnology from Manhattan College in New York City.

Mastering Innovation is live on Thursdays at 4:00 p.m. ET. Listen to more episodes here.