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Will the K-Cups further establish Cinnabon as not just cinnamon rolls?

Yeah. Some people ask questions about all the licensing and co-branding, and certainly we’re not perfect; we’ve made our mistakes. But we’ve had more wins than we have losses, and one of the things we’ve learned is that as long as we pick a partner that is typically No. 1 or No. 2 in their space, and they have the demonstrated ability to deliver a quality that exceeds consumers’ expectations of their product and meets consumers’ expectations of our brand, then it’s a smart move. And not only will something like Green Mountain expand the consumers’ perception of the Cinnabon brand, but partners like Green Mountain, like Pillsbury, like Kellogg, they have more marketing resources than our franchise business could ever dream of having.

Is it challenging today to run a concept that emphasizes indulgence?

A lot of people have asked: What’s the future of indulgent brands? How do you justify a brand that’s so indulgent? And I say, look, first of all, we have to have a few agreements. One is that people are going to want to treat themselves. I think most people would agree, whether it’s with burgers and fries or cocktails or doughnuts or whatever it is. The next is that they’re going to want to do that with sweet things. And if you can agree on that, then that says that there’s a place in the market for indulgent brands — ice cream, cookies, cinnamon rolls, whatever it is. That has not changed, actually. Despite all the health trends, we have just had three of the best comp sales years we have had in a decade. Lots of people are buying cinnamon rolls, worldwide. However, what’s changed is they demand higher quality for that indulgence. And of course they want more flexibility in portion size.

So you’re not going to do a whole-grain cinnamon roll?

We have tested whole grain, and you know what? A couple of people think it’s a good idea. A couple, but not enough to make an additional whole product innovation worth it. So the encouraging thing is that people want yumminess. They want something that’s so mind-numbingly delicious, and they’re okay with calories. Look at the Cronut craze. That thing has more calories than a classic Cinnabon cinnamon roll, and no one cares because it’s so worth it. And so long as anything we innovate is so worth it, it only heightens our differentiated position of quality indulgence.

There’s no question that we’re differentiated, but if we don’t continue to push the envelope with portion size and variety we’ll become irrelevant, so that’s a lot of our innovation focus.

What new menu items are on the horizon?

Coming up is salted caramel — salted caramel chillatta, salted caramel center of the rolls. We have a few other things that we’re working on that are going to blow people’s minds. We have a product coming out that, half the people who see it are going to say we’re idiots for doing it, and the other half are going to say it’s the most brilliant thing we could have possibly done.

Is it something that John Stewart of The Daily Show will ask, ‘Why are you poisoning Americans?’

I don’t think so. If it gets talked about on television, it will be done with affection, for sure. But that’s the cool thing about the brand. We take the culinary credibility very seriously when we’re translating it into something like a mini-roll for Burger King or an indulgent coffee creamer, but we get to have a ton of fun, too.

Contact Bret Thorn at bret.thorn@penton.com.
Follow him on Twitter: @foodwriterdiary