Krispy Kreme whiffs

Staff WriterMarch 30, 2004 

If you've got any of that New Coke lying around, hold onto it. I suspect you'll need it to wash down the new "low-sugar" Krispy Kreme doughnuts.

Most likely, though, you can place your new doughnuts right beside that New Coke -- on the shelf of lousy business ideas.

For decades, Krispy Kreme was a company that seemed to make all the right moves, to have its finger firmly on the pudgy belly of the public -- selling through schools, taking its stock public, leaving the formula alone.

In recent years, though, some of the glaze has dripped off, even as profits continue to soar. First, some employees told me, it changed its formula to increase shelf life so the doughnuts would, oxymoronically, stay fresh longer. Then it started opening stores all over the country, nay, the world, but not in its own back yard: People in some parts of North Carolina would have an easier time hopping a flight to New York or London and scoring a hot dozen than they would getting to a live Krispy Kreme store here. And we're not happy about it.

Such international expansion has made the Winston-Salem-based company the darling of Wall Street, but nobody I know feels the religious fervor about it that used to make us drive 60 miles to Charlotte just to grab a dozen of those bad boys when that "Hot. Now." light came on in the wee, small hours.

Some doughnutologists -- OK, just me -- predict that the foray into health consciousness is doomed to the same fate that befell Coke's attempt to change its formula back in the 1980s: New Coke became a laughingstock to everyone except stockholders and was shelved as soon as the company could do so with dignity.

There is, alas, a way that Krispy Kremes can be marketed as a dietary aid without fiddling with the formula: Lower the price so people can eat more. Yes, more. I know that after I've consumed a dozen glazed, I don't want to see anything else to eat for a couple of days.

The people running Krispy Kreme aren't dummies, so I wouldn't be surprised to learn that the introduction of a low-sugar doughnut is part of a cynical marketing strategy similar to the one Coke might have used when it introduced New Coke: The new stuff tasted so bad that people clamored for the old. Wanna bet that the same thing happens the second doughnutphiles taste their first dozen low-sugar 'nuts?

While low-cal doughnuts seem dumb, I think the world -- OK, maybe just me, again -- longs for a low-fat, odorless chitlin.

Krispy Kreme and other companies should be commended for at least being cognizant of the nationwide obesity epidemic that, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, kills 400,000 people each year. But low-sugar doughnuts and low-carb biscuits -- yep, even Biscuitville has a low-carb menu, honest -- are not the way to end it.

If Krispy Kreme really wanted to help diabetics and others cut back on sugar, the company should leave the formula alone and simply place inside each box of doughnuts the phone number of someone who could come over and lick the glaze off. My number is listed below.

Or else change that beckoning red light from "Hot. Now" to "Not. Now. Chubby."

Want to tell Barry what you think of low-cal doughnuts? Call him at 836-2811 or send him e-mail at barrys@newsobserver.com.

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