Lesson in Economics – Black Market Krispy Kreme Donuts

Is it a matter of the law of supply and demand or are Bangkok residents just too impatient to queue up for an hour to get donuts?  One thing is for certain: ever since Thailand’s first branch of Krispy Kreme, the popular North Carolina-based donut chain indulged in by former President Bill Clinton, opened last September there has been a black market for donuts in Siam Square.

The franchise is majority owned by Ausanee Mahagitsiri, the daughter of a wealthy family who owns one of Thailand’s largest conglomerates.  With the first location at Siam Paragon, one of the largest and busiest malls in the city, Khun Ausanee expects to build 20 locations in the country over the next few years.

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Ever ready for a new trend, when the store first opened Bangkokians eagerly queued for hours to buy a few dozen of the donuts.  These days, the lines are shorter, although there are still limits placed on how many donuts you can purchase.  Also, if you want the specialty donuts (frosted, filled, sprinkles, etc.) you can only order a mixed dozen.  No picking and choosing allowed.

To fill the demand, there are “donut scalpers” at work.  Not unlike their brethren outside a sold out Rolling Stones concert (or the men selling pornographic DVDs along Silom Road or, for that matter, the taxi touts at Suvarnabhumi Airport), the scalpers discreetly flash laminated picture menus and mutter their pitch – “Donuts, donuts for sale” – in barely audible tones.

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Can you spot the scalpers?  In addition to the woman holding the laminated card, the man behind her and the woman in the light blue shirt behind him were all working the crowd of shoppers, looking for an easy mark.  Security guards were present, too, although there seemed to be a loose understanding between all parties that so long as the scalpers were discreet, they could go about their business.  (Hey, that sounds like Silom Road and the airport, too!)

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Across the street from Siam Paragon, on the sidewalks of Siam Square just a few meters from a nearby Dunkin’ Donuts shop, vendors offer Krispy Kreme donuts for sale either by the dozen or individually, in entrepreneurial plastic containers that certainly did not come from Krispy Kreme.  On the day I investigaed, prices were marked up about 25%, relatively modest.  Presumably the mark-up has decreased over time, considering that the wait at the shop is now no longer than you might expect when checking in for an international flight. 

I have to wonder how long this fad will last.  Many people around Bangkok recall the Rotiboy craze.  Rotiboy, a Malaysian chain that makes coffee flavored Mexican buns, opened here in 2006, setting off a sensation for the fad-conscious locals that included hours-long lines.  Six month later the fad was dead, most of the locations closed, and only a few rebranded (“Mr. Bun”) branches remain, their employees looking forelorn as the fickle masses pass by.

Will this happen with Krispy Kreme?  Thailand doesn’t lack for donut chains – Dunkin’ Donuts and Mister Donut are both large and at least three other chains are growing here – and according to the Bangkok Post, donuts are a billion baht business.  ($33 million)

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On the whole, though, I suspect the craze will die.  Krispy Kreme donuts, which are really only special when you’re getting them freshly baked, aren’t yet available that way in Thailand.  To keep up with demand, thousands of donuts are made in advance, boxed, and stacked on rolling shelves in the back of the shop.  This is your guarantee that the donuts you see coming off the conveyer belt are not making it into the box about to be placed in your hands.

The bigger question that crosses my mind, though, is this: why are Thais so crazy for donuts?  I’ll take a freshly made khanom krug* any day of the week.

*More about those coming soon.

 

0 thoughts on “Lesson in Economics – Black Market Krispy Kreme Donuts

  1. The only way I would eat Krispy Kreme is if it was coming fresh out of the oven… Without the “just-made” part, it seemed useless! With that in mind, I don’t get the craze – they’re missing out!

  2. I don’t care for donuts, period! Krispy Cream or otherwise. I can understand the fad among the Asians though. Same thing happens when a new chain opens in India… and even here in the US. Scalpers? Now that is funny!I like this profile picture of yours Chris.

  3. Hmm… I suspect like anything else it’s the whole novelty of the food… and maybe the fact that it’s American makes it even more enticing. I’m with you though… either the craze is going to die down… or everyone in Thailand is going to have diabetes. =D

  4. I remembered the lines at Krispy Kreme in USA way back.  There is no line now, so it is indeed a fad.  Krispy Kreme is slightly different from other donuts that it seems to stay fresh longer.  BTW, I had my first donut yesterday and that is my quota for the year.  hehe.  Would I buy one from the scalper? no way.

  5. I think that is a riot – funny – We sell Krispy Kreme donuts but I think that are too sweet. But they do sell – convenience store -where I open, people buy two donuts and coffee every morning. Talk about a sugar fix!!!

  6. wow…. that’s insane. fascinating read. thanx for sharing!ps i do know that they have similar “food” trends in other parts of asia ie taiwan/singapore/hong kong/japan as well. e.g. egg tarts (traditional ones/macau style)

  7. Such a hilarious article, Chris. I have been always amazed at all those skinny Thai boys & girls shopping at Siam Paragon, eating big dishes of ‘kao mun gai’, slurping ice cream at Haagen Daz and now…..Crispy Creme dognuts? How do they keep so skinny after all?By the way, I don’t think the street vendor is a good idea, that sugar coating on the donuts will melt under the Bangkok sun/heat for sure!

  8. To answer your question the reason for all this donut craziness is…its an American novelty and maybe even, its popular to be there and be seen ? Overtime as you say, the donut will loose its appeal and people will go back to eating whatever else makes them happy. Though , I will say that I’ve heard that some actually think that eating a donut gives them good luck. Especially single women. The donut reminds them of a wedding band and by eating it.. it creates hopes of marriage. Now, remember my brother I am a bit of a crazy guy so never take my answers too seriously. Though you got to admit, my answer seems somewhat logical ???

  9. @Passionflwr86 – @ALovingAdversary – I’m with you on that.  Fresh made or nothing…@CurryPuffy – Honestly, I’m noticing that in general, there are more and more Bangkok residents who aren’t the skinny Thais that they used to be.  No doubt that the Krispy Kremes, et al of the world are part of the cause.@TheCheshireGrins – Isn’t it curious?@Sinful_Sundae – Andy and I were discussing the egg tart trends in late 90s in Hong Kong and Taipei.  You’ll be interested to know that KFC has just introduced Portuguese style egg tarts here in Bangkok.@jace1982 – There’s a picture in my blog from two Aprils ago of the line outside the Kirspy Kreme in Shinjuku, by the railways station.  Ah, my!@ZSA_MD – Thank you.  I borrowed it from the other website some of my entries post at.  I think the background is too dark for this site.  The old picture had a lighter background.@yang1815 – @Roadlesstaken – @Dezinerdreams – To which the Thais in line would probably respond that we’re crazy for not wanting Krispy Kremes with such passion!  LOL@murisopsis – My family would sometimes go to Estes Park, CO in the summers.  I remember a donut shop there that made these wonderful apple fritters with fresh apples.  Yum.@Fatcat723 – @kunhuo42 – @twentyse7enn – They are overwhelmingly sweet, aren’t they?@stevew918 – Yes, I remember when the first one opened in the Bay Area, we had lines like crazy, too.@bengozen – Honestly, with the amount of sugar in the Thai diet I’m surprised that diabetes isn’t more common.

  10. @christao408 – i remember the big craze that ensued when krispy kreme first came to hawaii (before then, it was a novelty that people had to bring back or have shipped in). i heard the lines were insane! i never thought it was worth it for a doughnut.  

  11. scalping tickets for donuts? Hmm… that is very enterprising. I’m not big on doughnuts though but there are days when I succumb to their seductive call.btw – that’s a nice headshot.

  12. it WILL die down, eventually. that’s what happened here in jakarta. the long line craze is unavoidable and that’s how it was for “Bread Talk”, “Crispy Cream”, “Rotiboy”, and “Sour Sally” to name a few. sure, few of them would still attract many customers ’till now but not nearly as crazy as when they were all still new to the market. i have to say, though, as crazy as it gets here in jakarta, we don’t have scalpers contribute to the profit making like you guys have over there. what we have here is the birth of many similar products under different brands, all locals, as their attempt to make quick bucks. within few months you start seeing more bakeries/donut shops/frozen yogurt stands selling similar items with their own twist in creation.ps: i have to agree with matt, that IS a nice head shot 🙂

  13. @ElusiveWords – @rudyhou – You mean the head shot of me?  Oh, thank you.  It was taken by the photographer for catandnat.com, where some of my posts are also appearing as a guest contributor.Rudy, as for the shops selling similar products, we’ll probably see a lot of that here, too, but with donuts we already have a half-dozen different shops so the market is quite full already.  Dunkin’ Donuts made a defense move by introducing (emphasizing?) its line of “American Style Donuts” which I guess are meant to counter Krispy Kreme.

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