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The Business of Baked Goods

Christine Birkner

Seven days a week, in the early morning hours—rain or shine, winter or summer—crowds line up on the sidewalk on a quiet street in New York’s SOHO neighborhood. They’re tourists and locals alike, eagerly anticipating getting their hands on a highly buzzed-about offering, and waiting up to two hours, on average, to do so. But it’s not the latest smartphone or hot concert tickets they’re lining up for. It’s the cronut. 

The cronut, a croissant-doughnut hybrid pastry filled with cream and topped with glaze, is the brainchild of chef  Dominique Ansel , and is sold at his flagship bakery in New York every morning until the limited supply runs out. Since its launch in May 2013, the cronut has been one of the most talked-about pastry items in history, covered in national and international media and widely posted about on social media. Time named it one of the 25 best innovations of 2013, and during that summer, people sold cronuts for up to $40 (five times their $5 retail price) on the “black market” of Craigslist. Three years later, customers still line up around the block for the cronut, and it has inspired knockoff versions by Dunkin’ Donuts and bakeries around the country, such as the “doughssant,” in Chicago, Atlanta and Columbus, Ohio, and the “cro-not” in San Francisco. 

Ansel’s version, however, is the trademarked original, and it’s helped him make his mark on the culinary scene, but he’s definitely not a one-hit bakery wonder. The pastry category is a competitive one, and trends such as designer cupcakes come and go. Thus, like any savvy product marketer, Ansel stays at the top of his game through innovation, creating more Instagram-able new bakery and food items and hosting one-of-a-kind culinary events. Although the chef is world renowned and recently opened a Tokyo outpost, 80% of his customers are local Manhattanites, so he has expanded his business by coupling product innovation with small business marketing acumen and concentrating on customer service and experience.

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Christine Birkner

Christine Birkner is a freelance writer in Chicago.