World Coffee Portal caught up with Duck Donuts CEO Betsy Hamm to find out how the donut and coffee chain with small-town roots is realising big ambitions on the world stage
A Duck Donuts store in Doha, Qatar (left) and CEO Betsy Hamm (right) | Photo credit: Duck Donuts
Opening its first location in 2007, Duck Donuts takes its namesake from the small waterside town of Duck, North Carolina. From those humble beginnings, the donut and coffee chain spread its wings to open franchised stores in 2013 and today maintains the same strong community focus, customisable donuts menu, premium espresso and cold brew range across its 137-store US portfolio.
However, not content with flying the nest to reach 29 US states and Puerto Rico, Duck Donuts has since to migrated far and wide across the globe.
“We have had a tremendous year with new store openings and are on track to achieve record outlet growth in 2023. So far this year we’ve opened 22 stores, including in new US states such as Nevada, Colorado and Massachusetts and three new countries internationally,” says Duck Donuts CEO, Betsy Hamm.
That journey began in August 2021, when the chain made its international debut with a store in Saudi Arabian capital, Riyadh. In partnership with local franchisee Anjal Arabia Trading, Duck Donuts is seeking to open tens of franchised stores in a market fast developing into a booming hub for coffee and hospitality commerce.
In May 2022 the chain launched in Canada, signing a multi-unit franchise agreement to develop and operate in the city of Edmonton, Alberta. The following August, Duck Donuts opened its first store in Qatar in partnership with franchisee Printemps Qatar Group.
February 2023 saw Duck Donuts enter the Egyptian market with a Cairo store in partnership with franchisee Master Foods and in October the first Duck Donuts store opened in Thailand. However, despite grand ambitions on the world stage, Hamm says the brands’ roots as a local, community focused operator still resonate throughout its fledgling global portfolio.
“Consistency is a core value at Duck Donuts. Whether you visit one of original locations in the Outer Banks of North Carolina or fly halfway around the world to visit our store in Cairo, Egypt, we want to guarantee our guests will enjoy the same warm, delicious, made-to-order donuts they have enjoyed elsewhere.
“As we expand into new countries, it is also important for us to incorporate local flavours while keeping the consistency of the product appeal and brand standard,” Hamm explains, adding that coffee and beverage sales at Duck Donut’s international locations are notably higher than in the US.
To this end, Duck Donuts has introduced localised beverage menus with a distinct international flavour. “Exclusive to the Doha community, guests can now indulge in an aromatic Matcha Latte – a refreshing fusion of traditional Japanese matcha and smooth steamed milk. For those seeking a touch of European flair, the Spanish Latte presents a blend of rich espresso and velvety condensed milk. In Puerto Rico, we serve a guava queso donut that has proved very popular,” Hamm explains.
In Thailand, Duck Donuts will soon introduce new locally inspired beverages, including Thai tea, matcha, pink milk, mango and salted egg.
A Duck Donuts employee at the brand’s new store in Bangkok, Thailand | Photo credit: Duck Donuts
Further international debuts are very much on the horizon and Duck Donuts has been busy this year forging franchise partnerships for stores in Australia, the Bahamas and Iraq.
“Before the end of the year, we expect to open our first location in Curaçao as part of our agreement to bring Duck Donuts to Aruba, Bonaire and St. Marteen, and second Canadian location in Edmonton, Alberta,” says Hamm.
“With the opening of Bangkok, our brand recognition in Asia is growing and we are already seeing interest in the Asia-Pacific region, which will further grow with the upcoming store in Sydney, Australia planned for 2024,” she adds.
As for innovation at home, in April 2023 the chain unveiled its new ‘shop of the future’ store format designed for speed of service at its core, including counter service and digital ordering points, with dedicated areas for mobile and third-party pick-up orders.
“Our model has always been built around the idea of to-go ordering as most locations offer limited seating. In 2019, we added the convenience of online ordering, which is about a third of our business today. With the shop of the future, we are adding additional elements that will help with the convenience of ordering, such as self-serving kiosks. Being a made-to-order concept, it will be important for Duck Donuts to still have team members available to educate guests on our products and how to order,” says Hamm.
With further international development waiting in the wings, including plans for stores in the UK and the Philippines, this is one brand that truly has its ducks in row for success.