Is it the end for Krispy Kreme's 'Hot Now' signs?

krispy kremeIts products may inflate your waistline, but Krispy Kreme is slimming down. The traditional "Factory" store, where you'll bathe in baking aromas and watch the elaborate oven contraption oozing sugary glaze over doughnuts, is getting left behind. In their place: counter service locations.

In the early part of this decade, Krispy Kreme nearly fell down the doughnut hole over a too-big-too-fast expansion plan. Now, having steadied somewhat from its tailspin, the company is gradually growing again, but this time, with extreme reserve -- and smaller stores.

This week in Knightdale, North Carolina, Krispy Kreme started rolling out what it calls its Krispy Kreme Neighborhood Shops. Just 900 to 1,200 square feet as opposed to double that for a traditional location, the Neighborhood Shops squeeze into small spaces such as train stations and shopping malls by leaving out the doughnut making equipment. Instead, the goodies will be trucked in.

That's not the only change on the way. The doughnut maker is also dipping into ice cream with a new "Kool Kreme soft-serve" (the fact it doesn't call it ice cream may be a clue to its ingredient list). Its Krispy Kreme Doughnut Factory and Kremery locations, including the one in North Carolina, will diversify its doughnut line, which made the brand famous, with a sundae toppings bar. And because it has to do something special to divert customers from the fact its doughnuts are no longer hot from the oven, it's also focusing on a line of "Chillers" dessert drinks.

I respect Krispy Kreme's reasons for going smaller. Doughnut-making locations don't just require more real estate, but they also employ 25 to 30 people, as opposed to 15 to 20 at the scaled-down version that only sells doughnuts. Add to that the fact that Americans are more cost and weight-conscious than they were ten years ago. Shrinking is probably a savvy adaptation plan.

But for me, not being able to delight in a freshly cooked Krispy Kreme, when it's hot and puffy and sweet as nectar, is the difference between buying one and passing by. In New York City, where I live, there used to be a real Krispy Kreme "Factory" location near my house, and that steamy "Hot Now" neon sign tempted me inside in many of my weak moments.

But that store closed, and in an early warning of Krispy Kreme's new model, the location nearest to me became just a counter that only sells doughnuts that are hours old, after they've become inert, more doughy, and the glaze no longer crumbles at the slightest touch. Because of that, I don't buy them anymore. They're simply not as good when they're not fresh. Some foods -- fried green tomatoes, french fries, rice -- lose all appeal when they're allowed to age.

Europeans often note that in America, everything comes down to cost, even to the detriment of quality. We're used to eating poor foods, and enduring bland flavors, because companies have gradually industrialized their methods and cheapened our options. Taste European cheeses and meats if you doubt that our eternal cost-cutting hasn't eroded our sense of pleasure.

Krispy Kreme is fighting for its life. I understand that. But in the process, it's also surgically removing its life force. As Krispy Kreme morphs into a food court version of Dairy Queen, it monkeys with the very reason it's famous.
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