The chain is "determined to be known for great-tasting espresso beverages”

By Mike Pomranz
October 24, 2018
Photo courtesy of Dunkin'

Eyeing espresso sales as a chance to steal business away from rival Starbucks, Dunkin’ is launching a massive revamp to its “espresso experience,” which aims to offer a triumvirate of improved quality, eye-catching packaging, and reportedly even lower prices.

The chain formerly known as Dunkin' Donuts announced today that it “is now determined to be known for great-tasting espresso beverages.” To get there, Dunkin’ is promising new state-of-the-art equipment, a new espresso recipe, and extensive training. This “bold, authentic taste” of “high-quality handcrafted lattes and cappuccinos” is expected to land in stores “by the holiday season”—a time of year that is also peak season for Starbucks.

But beyond simply improving quality, the Wall Street Journal reports that lower prices, apparently meant to undercut Starbucks, are also part of the new program. Looking at stores in Baltimore where Dunkin’ has been testing its retooled beverages, the WSJ points out that a 16-ounce latte at Dunkin’ currently costs $3.59 compared to Starbucks’ $4.19. Meanwhile, an Americano at Dunkin’ is priced at only $2.64 compared to $3.13 for the same drink at Starbucks.

As a hopeful nail in the coffin, Dunkin’ will also be selling the new beverages in distinctive, bright orange cups featuring a large exclamation point to help highlight the changes. Eventually, Dunkin’ reportedly plans to bring these drinks to over 9,200 stores across the US.

The move can be seen as one of many incremental steps Dunkin’ has made to better position itself as a worthy alternative to Starbucks, including dropping the word “Donuts” from its name and selling new products like cold brew. “There’s no reason to go to Starbucks anymore,” Tony Weisman, Dunkin’s marketing chief, said according to the WSJ. It’s hard to be much more on the nose than that.

But it’s not just prices and cup colors that are changing. The entire Dunkin’ culture is potentially being uprooted. To facilitate this new espresso push, Dunkin’ is investing heavily in new Swiss-produced espresso machines and educating employees on how to use them. Parag Patel, who owns a number of Dunkin’ franchises in Baltimore and beyond, told the WSJ he spent a month educating his crew on how to do things like properly pull espresso shots, and the hard work is paying off. “The crew members feel like true baristas back there,” he said.