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Fascinating interview in Fast Company with Dunkin’ Donuts CEO Jon Luther, who has been charged with making the company into a low-cost competitor to Starbucks that is well positioned for the future.

The problem, he tells the magazine is that “we weren't relevant to our competitive set. You've got wellness issues, you've got mobility issues, you've got portability issues. Besides, nobody's eating three meals a day anymore -- they're snacking five times a day. We weren't positioned to meet that demand.”

These days, he says, the company is “reconcepting, which is the fun thing to do. The menu concept is the driver of all this. We're not in the widget business, we're in the food business, and we better be the best at food. Period. I'm convinced this segment of the industry can deliver quality equal to Wolfgang Puck.”

In addition to focusing on quality plus speed (which he says differentiates Dunkin’ Donuts from Starbucks, which isn’t conducive to the customer in a hurry), Luther says that the other challenge is to “create a healthy halo over our product line, so if you want coffee with soy milk, you can get it; or a low trans fat muffin, you can get it. Fruit cups, or a breakfast sandwich made with Egg-Beaters. Across all our menu lines, across all our products, there's going to be some better-for-you option. It's going to take a long time. It can't be done overnight. But every product will go through that filter as we reinvent.”
KC's View:
Reinventing the company – over and over again if necessary – is critical to keep up with a customer base that also is reinventing itself. The only characteristic that probably has to stay intact is the ability to be nimble, to recognize a shift in the wind and to trim the corporate sails so it can be taken advantage of.

The problem, we think, is that there aren’t a lot of grocery retailers that necessarily realize that…or at least have made this ability a key cultural value.

Which is why so many of them flirt with irrelevance.