National Donut Day is set for the first Friday of June, and businesses are eagerly anticipating the rush of customers who will celebrate.

This unofficial holiday first started as a way to honor “Donut Lassies,” the women who served donuts to soldiers on the front lines during the First World War. While the day is mainly celebrated in the United States, other donut shops around the world participate. Traditionally, a free donut is given to customers of donut shops on the day.

While we are currently in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic and many businesses are prevented from welcoming donut lovers into their stores, there remains opportunity for curbside pickup and delivery. It all starts with offering decadent donuts that satisfy the eyes and the taste buds.

Donuts have been elevated from simple options like chocolate glazed to unique variations such as bacon-topped long johns. Gen Z and Millennials in particular appreciate adventurous flavors. According to a consumer survey from Dawn Foods, more than 80% of Gen Z and Millennial consumers want to try outside-the-box donuts.

Among some of the donut flavors consumers are craving include s’mores, mango, alcohol-inspired, breakfast cereal, bacon-Infused, and peanut butter and jelly. From innovative toppings and glazes to mashup formats, the options to delight consumers seem almost limitless.

While cupcakes were once the preferred showcase for creativity, gourmet donuts have moved into the picture with their possibilities, says Eleonora Lahud, corporate chef for C&H Sugar.

37% of Americans consume donuts at least once a month.

“Move over cupcake, it’s donut time! With innovative flavor profiles and unexpected additions, donuts are canvas for the creative baker. The donut craze is strong and creativity is driving the industry forward,” she says. “The beloved old-fashioned yeast raised donut, glazed or dusted with cinnamon sugar, are staples in any donut shop operation. However, what is driving consumers to stand in line for hours are the trendy flavors available.”

America has spoken, and it wants more gourmet donuts. Dawn’s survey found that 97% of North American donut volume come from the United States, with more than 10 billion donuts made in this country every year. The average American consumer eats 31 donuts per year and 37% of Americans consume donuts at least once a month.

Donuts are in demand, and all it takes to win over customers is the right look and flavors in your offerings.

Gourmet flavors

In the United States, consumers rank flavor as the top attribute for donuts, more than type or packaging. They look for new and interesting flavor combinations and premium ingredients to create a unique donut experience.

One of the more interesting flavors for donut shops in recent years has been a flavor making its way into all sorts of desserts: birthday cake. According to a Datassentials report from March 2019, birthday cake market penetration will see 0.3% point growth by 2022, meaning that the flavor will appear in about 8,825 more full-service US restaurants—or in 19,822 more US restaurants overall.

According to Sam Jones, Dawn Foods’ director of category ingredient marketing, North America, the company has seen significant demand for birthday cake flavors from its customers and released a new birthday cake donut mix in 2020 to meet this demand, as well as celebrate Dawn’s 100th anniversary.

The flavor profile of Dawn’s Birthday Cake Donut is a combination of a vanilla cake flavor with sprinkles. The company also wanted to make it look and taste like birthday cake, so the crumb inside of the donut is lighter and sprinkles were included in the mixing and frying process.

Dawn recommends serving the donut with white icing and sprinkles on top to give it that birthday cake experience.

Sweet-and-salty combinations are one of the fastest-growing dessert flavors. A good way to take advantage of this in your donuts is salted caramel. This flavor profile has grown 74% on menus since 2015, according to Dataessentials. Salted caramel is an excellent way for bakers to appeal to this growing trend. In fact, Dawn is launching a salted caramel donut in 2020.

The most popular donut at PVDonuts in Providence, R.I. is the Dunakaroo, based on the beloved 90's snack.

Another aspect of donut-making that can go overlooked is the branding. This is one of the keys to success for PVDonuts in Providence, R.I. Opened in 2016, the shop stood out early for introducing brioche-style donuts to the New England area. They believe that donuts should be enjoyed as an experience, which is why they’ve crafted an image of fun and flavorful donuts.

“Since day one, we’ve had this look to us. People see a donut and they automatically know it’s ours, just because of this brand we’ve built for ourselves,” says co-founder Lori Kettelle.

The shop’s brioche-style donuts are not heavy with sugar and are more butter-based like a pastry, which is good to build off of with flavors. This allows PVDonuts to go in many different directions, both sweet and savory.

The most popular flavor at PVDonuts is the Dunkaroo, based on the beloved 90’s snack. It was first introduced as part of the shop’s limited-edition throwback menu in 2017, which also featured takes on Pop Rocks, Wildberry Pop-Tarts, Cosmic Brownies and much more.

To make the Dunkaroo donut, PVDonuts ordered Dunkaroos from Canada (you couldn’t get them in the United States at the time; according to the snack’s official Twitter account, they will be re-released in the United States in the summer of 2020). They taste-tested the snack and made sure to get the Dunkaroo glaze just right, then added a cinnamon graham cookie crumb topping.

Not only did these donuts wow the taste buds, but they also had eye-popping colors. This characteristic helps donuts to stand out on social media, an easy way to showcase your products to get customers to your store.

California Donuts in Los Angeles knows well the value of Instagram and Facebook to a donut shop’s reputation. Its specialty donuts have helped elevate the humble donut into a gourmet dessert. Despite being in business for nearly four decades, California Donuts has been able to stay relevant with an image-heavy approach to donuts. Staying on top of what’s trending is also important, manager Danette Kuoch says.

“Paying attention to trends and what’s happening in the food world is what helps us be in the know,” she says.

“We have now become a late-night dessert spot in Los Angeles.”

The shop’s specialty donuts sell for $2, $2.50 or $3 apiece.

The menu includes the signature Panda donut, which is made with Oreo pieces, Blueberry Toast Crunch, Strawberry and Nuts, Samoa and Lucky Charms. All donut varieties are visually appealing with an exceptional taste to match them.

Limited-time offerings

Exclusivity can be a powerful motivator in sales. Limited-time offerings (LTOs) encourage customers to come into your store immediately, and can lead to more exposure to the rest of your menu.

With summer right around the corner, ice cream will be a hot (or cold) draw for your shop’s visitors. Consider offering an ice cream donut for the summer. In July of last year, Busken Bakery in Cincinnati introduced donut ice cream sandwiches to the menu. The bakery’s Halo donuts were stuffed with ice cream from regional companies Graeter’s and United Dairy Farmers and then hot pressed for a sealed, caramelized glaze.

The Halo food truck parked outside of Busken headquarters, where the company added outdoor seating near where the truck is parked.

Busken Bakery president and chief executive officer Dan Busken was inspired to launch the food truck after seeing a similar concept in California.

“So, we never really added ice cream to our products. However, the summer months are not good bakery business months, so we are hoping that by bringing the ice cream into the doughnut that we’ll attract a lot of people during the summer,” Busken says.

Ice cream can add something special to your gourmet donuts, especially during the warm weather months.

General Mills Foodservice corporate chef Nancy Maurer offers an additional way to use ice cream on your donuts.

“Another trend we are tracking is donuts topped with ice cream, with a scoop of ice cream placed in the hole, and topped with chocolate syrup and sprinkles—a donut cake sundae,” Maurer says.

Breakfast sandwiches are another way to go with your donuts. Eleonora Lahud of C&H Sugar says that the company has noticed a rising trend in donut breakfast sandwiches. She suggests the idea of a parmesan donut filled with ham, cheese and a perfectly cooked egg.

PVDonuts finds a great deal of value in LTOs. Several years ago, it debuted a Thanksgiving meal-in-one pastry, the “Friendsgiving” donut. The item was so popular during the holiday that PVDonuts decided to bring it back for another year, and has done that ever since.

“Friendsgiving” starts with a brioche donut as the base. It is then topped with cranberry glaze, slices of fried chicken (chicken works better with the donut), mashed potatoes, stuffing, and gravy.

“People line up over those three days. It’s ridiculous,” says co-founder Lori Kettelle. “People love that and we do it every year now. We got great feedback from that one.”

Another savory donut that PVDonuts offers only two days during the year is its Pizza Donut. For National Pizza Day and Father’s Day, the shop takes a brioche donut and fills it with red sauce. Then, the donut is topped with mozzarella and melted in an oven. Finally, it’s sprinkled with more cheese and topped with a slice of pepperoni.

“For Father’s Day, we were trying to think of something fun to do. We had seen other places do pizza donuts, but no one had done it filled. We decided to try it out, and it was a big hit,” Kettelle says.

The shop also did a special donut to honor one of many Americans’ favorite television shows, “The Office.” Based on the show’s free pretzel day episode, PVDonuts put 18 toppings on its Michael Scott Donut: sweet glaze, cinnamon sugar, chocolate, white chocolate, fudge, M&Ms, caramel dip, mint chip, chocolate chip, marshmallows, nuts, toffee nuts, coconut, peanut butter drizzle, Oreos, sprinkles, cotton candy bits, and powdered sugar.

Fun non-traditional “holidays” can be great opportunities for special flavors. For example, Sugar Shack Bakery in Virginia has seen significant success in its limited-time Harry Potter-themed donut, in honor of Harry Potter’s birthday. The donut was so popular that the bakery allowed only two donuts per in-store purchase when launched to keep up with demand.

Based on the famous butterbeer beverage, the Golden Snitch donut features the taste of crème soda and butterscotch. It’s topped with gold stars and a donut hole with wings.