In January, Nigel Travis left his Louisville digs and Papa John’s pizza to serve as chief executive of the Dunkin’ Donuts empire. So far, the 59-year-old Englishman has ditched his Starbucks habit and tasted his first iced coffee (he prefers Coolattas).
Travis, in one of his first sit-down interviews since coming to Boston, talked about expanding Dunkin’ Donuts and Baskin-Robbins across the country and around the globe.
He is taking on old rivals like McDonald’s and trying to top the competition during one of the worst recessions in decades.
Travis recently spoke with Globe reporter Jenn Abelson.
Dunkin’ Brands is celebrating its 15,000th store opening this week, with new shops debuting around the world. Where will you be and why are you doing this?
It’s an exciting event. I’ll be in Raleigh and then the week after I’ll be in Dubai and Kuwait to celebrate our 450th store just in the Middle East. Even in these tough economic times, we want to show we are growing.
Is the company’s expansion moving as quickly as projected?
It’s undoubtedly slowed down because of the economy. Most of that is just the lack of financing. But we’re still probably opening far more stores than other restaurant companies. There will be multiple hundreds of openings this year.
How is the recession affecting customers?
There’s a sign some people are cutting back one or two visits a week. And people are obviously trading for cheaper products, and that’s why we just launched a breakfast wrap at 99 cents.
Your rival Starbucks has shuttered hundreds of stores and is now pushing landlords for as much as a 25 percent reduction in lease rates. Are you snatching up any of their shops? Are you trying to get cheaper leases, too?
We have taken over some of the sites that Starbucks had. And we’re encouraging our franchisees to go back to the landlords. I think 25 percent reduction is a little bit of a stretch. I’d think 10 to 20 percent is more realistic.
Has McDonald’s recent focus on coffee hurt Dunkin’?
I used to be at Burger King, so I’m very used to fighting with McDonald’s. I have a great respect for them. We’ve obviously had some competitive onslaught from McDonald’s and Starbucks. But we seem to be withstanding that as well. McDonald’s and Starbucks have made us even sharper on our pricing. We’re very aware of what great competitors they are. It’s made us think about how we can get a greater edge.
Have you tasted the coffee at McDonald’s and Starbucks?
I had McDonald’s yesterday. And last week was Starbucks. Before joining the company, I was a Starbucks customer. When I was in Louisville, we didn’t have many Dunkin’ Donuts there. But I’m a strong convert to Dunkin’.
So how did you feel when Starbucks recently unseated Dunkin’ as the Best Coffee in the new Zagat’s Fast Food survey?
Research group Brand Keys says we’re number one. You can pick your survey. But we still believe we’re number one.
Read more at the Boston Globe