Le Cronut – Making a bastard doughnut an object of desire.

Cronut cutIf you live in New York City – or anywhere else hip – you will likely have heard about the ‘Cronut’ by now.  Maybe you have even lined-up to try to get one – or a maximum two.  Cronuts have been on the social media radar screen ever since they were first introduced in the spring of 2013 and have become a mainstream media darling by now, as well.  They might follow the cupcake and the macaron to global glory. There are reports that the round hybrid pastry1 is already being imitated in other cosmopolitan cities around the world – under different names however, since its inventor has trademarked the CronutTM before he served them up.   In fact, the ways in which this patissier has gone about sharing his creation with the world remind us of the key ingredients to successfully creating a premium brand in more than one way.  Lets take a closer look:

What are they? – Exactly!
Cro – What? “Cronuts” – when you hear that name popping up in a conversation for the first time, you are likely intrigued.  Once the concept becomes clearer, the idea of tasting this fusion of refined-buttery French croissant and sugary-indulgent American donut becomes very desirable to some – particularly since they are unlikely to get any – at least not now and not very easily.

Make Yourself Rare.
That is because Cronuts are only available from a little french pastry café – Dominique Ansel Bakery – on Spring Street in Soho.  That together with the fact that you are not allowed to buy more than two and that there is a single flavor which changes every month makes them a rarity in a world of abundance.  So rare and desirable that people queue up hours before dawn, even though the bakery only opens at 8am.  Helpfully, the bakery’s website advises that those arriving after 6am risk not to get any Cronuts as only 300 are made per day.  An option to order Cronuts in advance was removed after the waiting list exploded and abuse was reported.
With more and more people out there trying to get their hands on an item in very limited supply, it became inevitable for fakes and even some fights to appear on the scene.   Having to tweet back to Victoria Beckham that what she ate were Cronut look-alikes, at best, was not hurting Ansel’s business to say the least2.   Nor was Anthony Bourdain complaining on the Piers Morgan show about being cheated out of the pastries “Jesus wants us to eat”3

Craftsmanship, sugar and fat – Irresistible.
Dominique Ansel understands that many people wouldn’t queue up for a simple ‘fried croissant’, so he makes sure to let us know just enough to understand that we will be sinking our teeth into something very special.  Any Cronut ‘takes up to 3 days to make’ we are told on the website1.  They are made of a ‘proprietary doug’h that took two months to develop. The baker stays appropriately vague on the details of making the pastry.  Suffice it to know that the art lies in giving them just the right balance of crunchy layers and indulgent softness inside.  A balance that is fickle to preserve.  The buyer is urged not to let her Cronut get stale or even try to heat it up at home.  It is best consumed right on the spot.  If all this mystique is not enough to hook you, the mix of warm sugar and fat is sure to do it,  for ultimately, the product has to deliver on the dream or the bubble will burst.

Getting a bite? – Priceless
You heard about that latest flavor and that it will be around for only a few more days. You have waited for hours just smelling that delicious Fig and Mascarpone Cronut (September flavor).  You heard from others in the line that Sarah Jessica Parker wanted Ansel bakeryto get one yesterday but came too late.  Now YOU hold one in your hand. Still warm. How does it make you feel?   How does it taste? … And what about the $5 (each) you paid?  – Irrelevant, right?

If one steps back and looks at this rationally, one would note that a Cronut is about eight to ten times the price of any donut at popular Dunkin Donut in New York. A DD donut is to be had without a significant wait, likely closer to your home, in almost unlimited quantities and at a discount if your lucky or a coupon clipper. Yes, there is no Rose-Vanilla flavor – but the Vanilla Kreme filled donut is pretty good and there are some 20-30 other flavors available.

But then, the choice of a mythical product or brand have little to do with reason or a cost-benefit calculation.  Price becomes an afterthought – to some more important than sleep or renewing their visa4 – when you can have one of those Cronuts everyone is craving.  Just ask the scalpers (Cronut dealers?) selling them for for up tp $100 a piece on the internet – depending on where you live in New York City (delivery included, though)5. –  That’s what I would call super-premium (or desperate).

Cronut with a higher purpose.
But is this a mythical brand in the making or will it turn out to be a fad?  Dominique Ansel understands the critical difference and has gone about giving his creations a deeper meaning than satisfying sweet-teeth – preferably by engaging with influencing stakeholders via twitter.

First there is the ethic that everyone is equal before the Cronut and the communal Cronut line in the sunrevelation that waiting for one in line can be a healing experience.  Social media brim with reports of the rich and famous trying to jump the line6.  But Ansel would not have it and gets applauded for it by the 99% (ignoring the fact that Ansel would also not let 99% have any of his donuts at all).  Others are admired for humbly waiting with everyone else.  Even an old man was cut no slack but later thanked Ansel for giving him time to listen to his son for the very first time while waiting in line.

And then there is ‘Crolanthropy’.  Ansel’s response to a tweet about the absurdity of Cronut lines on the one hand and hunger in New York City on the other7.  And the only (legal) way to get up to four (!) of these marvels in one buy.  Here is how it works: Buy the Crolanthropy t-shirt and the proceeds will go to the New York Food Bank.  The Cronuts don’t go there, though, for fear the Food Bank would be assaulted by craving fans, I guess. …  There is still an opportunity in the ‘higher purpose’ department, we think.

Crolanthropy t shirt

Growing with Gravitas?
The question is whether the ‘original Cronut’ will succeed to become an icon versus a fad.  Will it be able to spread while preserving its ‘premiumness’?  That is an eternal challenge.

The croissant itself is said to be a Hungarian or Austrian baker’s invention, created to celebrate the rebuttal of the Turks in the 17th century. It became a classic but also a generic piece of pastry.   Cronuts Copycats have already started to pop up in places like Kuala Lumpur, Berlin or London – where the upscale ‘Duck and Waffle’ bakery is offering a “dosant”8.

‘Krispy Kreme’ also started out as a special donut people queued up for to get it while still warm. It successfully spread around the nation and grew to become a multi-million dollar franchise.  But the growth cooled down together with cold Krispy donuts seemingly showing up in every supermarket.  They just did not taste the same anymore (or was that perception?) and the brand’s fortunes declined.

Ansel has just anounced he is looking into ways to preserve Cronut freshness to ship it nationally… at the same time he introduced the “Magic Souffle”. It is a re-interpretation of he fickle French desert classic – with a secret formula filling.  He has also signed a cookbook deal.  Maybe ‘Dominique Ansel’ is the mythical brand?  You tell us!

Sources and further information:
1-The Ansel Bakery offers up a short Cronut-101 here:

2-The Daily News reports: “Victoria Beckham tweets fake Cronuts – Inventor correct”

Close Miss: The endless iPhone 5 and Cronut lines almost merge in SoHo.  But as the Gothamist reports, major confusion could be averted:


3 – A feud over Cronuts promised but shared with Anthony Bourdain discussed on the Piers Morgan show and going viral – the wonderful world of free media:

4-Proof of appeal beyond reason: People prioritize trying to get a Cronut over amazingly essential things – like getting their visa extended.  Front-line reporting from Buzzfeed.com:

5 – Today.com reports about Ansel fighting scalpers charging up to $100 per Cronut:

6 – Emma Roberts is not allowed to jump the Cronut line – now that is newsworthy!

7 – The Huffington post on “Crolanthropy” is born:

8 – National Geographic article on Cronut going Global after 3 months on the scene:  http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2013/08/130819-cronut-pastry-croissant-doughnut-food/

About JP Kuehlwein

JP Kuehlwein is a global business leader and brand builder with a 25+ year track record of translating consumer and brand insights into transformational propositions that win in market. Principal at ‘Ueber-Brands’ a New York consulting firm, he now helps others to elevate brands and make them peerless and priceless. JP also teaches brand strategy at NYU Stern and Columbia Business School and leads the Marketing Institute at The Conference Board, all in New York. Jp previously was Executive Vice President at Frédéric Fekkai & Co, a prestige salon operator and hair care brand and lead brand- and corporate strategy development and execution at multinational Procter & Gamble as Brand Director and Director of Strategy. JP and Wolf Schaefer have co-authored the best-selling books “Rethinking Prestige Branding – Secrets of the Ueber-Brands” which lays out what drives the success of modern premium brands and "Brand Elevation - Lessons in Ueber-Branding" a guide to developing and executing a brand elevation strategy. Find the books here: https://bit.ly/UeberBooks
This entry was posted in 2 - Longing vs Belonging - The challenge is both, 4 - Behold! - The product as manifestation, 6 - Un-Sell - The superiority of seduction, 7 - Moving with Gravitas - The king never hurries, E - Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Le Cronut – Making a bastard doughnut an object of desire.

  1. Glenn Myatt says:

    JP, a very interesting post that shows that any business with a bit of imagination can use brand building techniques. Goes to show that it doesn’t need a rich heritage to create a brand myth or story, just a few intriguing claims (e.g. ‘proprietary doug’h). By have limited supply and limited time for each flavour they have tapped into the current ‘urgency economy’ trend.

    Importantly the product concept itself – the combination of croissant and doughnut – is a great example of successful innovation using classic ‘diffusion of innovation’ principles. With your permission, this post outlines these principles using examples of other food products: http://brandtruth.com.au/2013/06/11/to-develop-new-products-that-sell-like-hot-potatoes-think-hot-potatoes-guidelines-for-breakthrough-innovation-in-todays-risk-averse-business-climate


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