For any kind of flavor, there are three main sensory components: aroma, taste, and feeling factors (sensations detected in the eyes, mouth, or nose). Taste will always be a primary driver of donut sales, but you can’t get customers to keep coming back if they don’t look the part.
Texture is also vital to satisfaction, which is why it’s trending in desserts. Creative textures and toppings can do wonders for gourmet donuts. Whether soft and creamy, crunchy and crispy, or chewy, mouthfeel (how food or drink feels inside our mouths) can be just as important to the dining experience.
Toppings can make or break your donuts. Knowing what consumers are looking for in their donut toppings will keep you ahead of the game. An expert in her field, Chef Nancy Maurer, corporate chef with General Mills Foodservice, helps track culinary trends and share insights and recipe inspiration for foodservice customers.
One of Chef Nancy’s specialties is the use of cereal as an ingredient in everything from pancakes to other desserts. General Mills offers a wide range of beloved cereals and some of the biggest household names in the category – everything from Honey Nut Cheerios and Cinnamon Toast Crunch to Lucky Charms and Trix.
“Whether it’s for visual appeal or their unique flavor profile and texture, cereals make an excellent topping that will help donuts stand out in the bakery case,” she says.
According to Chef Nancy, nostalgia plays an important role in consumer enjoyment of cereal as a donut topping. They are drawn to the favorite foods of their childhood, including their beloved breakfast cereals. They also appreciate baked good with a “wow” factor.
Not only will it make for a satisfying donut, but the visuals will encourage them to share posts about what they are eating on their social media.
“Combining cereal with a beloved baked good like a donut is a win-win!” she says.
In addition to drawing in customers, these special toppings also provide an opportunity to command a higher price point for your donuts.
“Adding another ingredient, and one that the consumer perceives as added value, definitely warrants a higher price point. Particularly, if you are tying in a unique ingredient like a specific cereal brand that consumers know and love,” Chef Nancy says.
Another innovative use for cereal in donuts is to create cereal milk. This is made by soaking cereal in milk and then straining the cereal out. It can used to make glazes and mousses to top donuts.
Cereal-based donuts are some of the most widely-found at shops across the country, and for good reason. PVDonuts in Providence, RI, lists them among its top-sellers.
“We always carry a cereal milk donut. We take Fruity Pebbles and soak them in milk overnight. Then we take that milk and turn it into a glaze. We top it with fresh Fruity Pebbles cereal,” says co-founder Lori Kettelle. “Everybody loves that one. Kids, grown-ups. It’s colorful, really pretty, and tastes delicious.”
Donuts may use many different breakfast foods as toppings, including cereal, bacon, and fruit, but donuts are no longer a breakfast-only item. According to a survey from Dawn Foods, 87% of people eat them in the morning, 38% in the afternoon, 33% in the evening and 23% late at night.
The dessert-style donut and its variety of toppings is popular at all hours of the day, as noticed by PVDonuts. Lori Kettelle says that chocolate toppings that add special texture to donuts are valuable in donut sales.
Candy remains a strong topping on donuts. At Hurts Donut Co., based in Springfield, Mo., the shop has had great success with its Andes Mint Donut. Topped with crushed Andes Chocolate Mints, the donut is a top seller at Hurts’ many franchise locations. Another best seller is its Maple Bacon Bar, piled with sweet and savory maple bacon, considered by many to be “the candy of meats.”
Hurts Donut Co. is never afraid to experiment with toppings, and that boldness has led to a variety of delicious donuts. Co-owner Tim Clegg recalls the early trials and errors of offering any crazy topping — potato chips, Cheetos, all types of sugar cereals — they may imagine.
“At first, it didn’t matter what we put on a donut. It sold,” he says.