BlueMauMau reports that Dunkin’ Donuts announced this week that in 2009 the firm managed to grow its U.S. chain by 171 stores, which it says was largely outside of its traditional New England hub. Dunkin’ also says it received 131 new agreements in 2009 where franchisees will shortly set up store locations.

“We’re very pleased with Dunkin’ Donuts’ growth,” said Nigel Travis, chief executive officer of Dunkin’ Brands. “As we continue to grow in 2010, we are focusing on steady, strategic growth that allows us to gain greater penetration in our existing markets, while also entering a few select new territories. Additionally, we are also focused on driving operational excellence in our existing locations to ensure our guests continue to enjoy a high-quality product and experience every day in new and existing locations alike.”

But some are suspicious that such a slight increase in franchised units really is much ado about nothing.

Mr. Kevin McCarthy, a former vice president of real estate and operations at Dunkin’ Donuts and current chairman of the Dunkin Donuts Independent Franchise Owners association, says, “Opening only 171 shops in 2009 is rather paltry by traditional measures and in light of the significant growth potential of Dunkin Brands in the U.S.” Mr. McCarthy’s emphasizes that his views in this article are not attributable to or to be considered official statements from DDIFO or any other organization.

“A better measure of this chain’s financial health is a comparison of same shop sales,” says McCarthy. “Unlike Dunkin’, McDonalds reveals annually and which has recently shown to be increasing impressively. Same shop sales increases are still the best and most objective statistic for assessing the vitality of a food chain as it provided an excellent reading on how well a concept is received by the actual markets it operates in.  In short, impressive increases in same store sales tells you that customers like what they experience, are probably telling others and are coming back themselves.”

But Michelle King, director of global public relations for Dunkin’ Brands, Inc. is under no such obligation to reveal what same store sales are. In replying to a request by Blue MauMau for 2009 same store sales, she declares, “As a privately held company, we don’t disclose same-store sales.”

“We only share publicly year-end system wide sales,” Ms. King adds. According to her, Dunkin’ Donuts has 9,186 stores worldwide at the end of 2009 that produced system-wide sales of $5.7 billion. That is up $200 million from a year earlier. The chain has 6,566 stores in the U.S. and 2,620 internationally at the end of December, 2009 .

Dora Brunette, senior communications specialist for food researcher NPD Group, Inc., helps put Dunkin’ numbers in perspective compared to the industry as a whole. She says that sales in the doughnut sector had a 6% increase in 2009 sales versus a year ago. However, coffee sales decreased 4 percent compared to 2008. Traffic estimates for donut eaters were up some 3% at 2.3 billion visits. However, coffee traffic was down in 2009 by 7%, or 2.5 billion visits.

Dunkin’ saw a 3.6 percent growth in 2009’s system wide sales compared to 2008’s.

Read More at: BlueMauMau

Related Reading: Providence Business News  and BusinessWeek  and Nation’s Restaurant News