Growing up in New York, Dunkin’s donuts and Munchkins were a staple of school birthday celebrations, early morning events, and middle-school hangouts. Unfortunately, my once-favorite Dunkin’ donut, the Vanilla Frosted Donut, falls short in environmental and social sustainability. This donut contains a host of animal-derived ingredients, and Dunkin’ is vague about where and how these products are made. This lack of transparency also carries over to Dunkin’s labor practices. Overall, I would like to see Dunkin’ employ transparent and more consequential sustainability and social justice initiatives. Compared to other American fast food or fast-casual chains, Dunkin’s sustainability practices are moderate, which is concerning when thinking about the actions of American chain food establishments. If you have access to local coffee shops or bakeries, I would shop at those before Running on Dunkin’.
Unsurprisingly, the Dunkin’ Donuts Vanilla Frosted Donut is made from a slew of ingredients, many of which are ultra-processed or derived from animal products, which are unhealthy for people and the planet. The donut’s ingredients include: Enriched Wheat Flour (Flour, Malted Barley Flour, Niacin, Reduced Iron, Thiamin Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid), Water, Palm Oil, Yeast Donut Concentrate [Soy Flour, Salt, Leavening (Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate, Baking Soda), Wheat Starch, Whey (a milk derivative), Nonfat Dry Milk, Gum Blend (Cellulose Gum, Guar Gum, Acacia Gum, Carrageenan, Xanthan Gum), Sodium Caseinate (a milk derivative), Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate, Contains 2% or less of: Soybean Oil, Soy Lecithin, Whole Egg, Natural Flavor, Turmeric Extract (Color)], Enzymes, Annatto Extract (Color), Yeast, Dextrose, Soybean Oil, Mono and Diglycerides; Vanilla Flavored Icing: Sugar, Water, Corn Syrup, Rice Starch, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Palm Oil, Corn Starch, Contains 2% or less of: Maltodextrin, Dextrose, Soybean Oil, Artificial Flavor, Salt, Sodium Propionate and Potassium Sorbate (Preservatives), Citric Acid, Polyglycerol Esters of Fatty Acids, Agar, Soy Lecithin, Spirulina Extract (Color).
That’s a mouthful! In a nutshell, enriched wheat flour, palm oil, soy-based ingredients, milk-derived ingredients, and eggs are the donut’s main ingredients. Dunkin’ doesn’t state where it sources its wheat from, which makes me think that its from large-scale industrial farms. Commercial and conventional wheat farming generates a hefty amount of carbon emissions and pollutants because of the industrial-fertilizer production process and the wheat’s transportation off the farm and into processing facilities and other locations along the wheat supply chain.
Unlike the wheat, Dunkin’ shares that it uses sustainable palm oil in its products. The company is a member of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) and is one of the founding members of the North American Sustainable Palm Oil Network (NASPON), as it hopes to encourage large food businesses to use sustainable sources of palm oil.
Dunkin’ provides some information on the sourcing and production of its ingredients when they come from more sustainable sources. This trend applies to the dairy products in the Vanilla Frosted Donut. Dunkin’ Donuts is a member of the Dairy Sustainability Alliance, a group that is trying to make the dairy industry more environmentally sustainable, through advocating for farms to reduce their water consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, but by the far-off date of 2050. I’m skeptical of this dairy stakeholder group: given that Dunkin’ does not state where it sources its dairy from, and the Dairy Sustainability Alliance is made up of members of the dairy industry who need this environmentally hazardous field to prosper, I’ve taken off points in the rating.
Overall, this hefty ingredient list, unclear sourcing, and Dunkin’s vague claims about the sustainability of the Vanilla Frosted Donut’s ingredients means what this donut is made of is unsustainable.
Dunkin’ is not transparent about how it makes its donuts or how most of the ingredients in the Vanilla Frosted Donut are produced, but it is making positive steps with where it sources its palm oil. Dunkin’ writes that in 2019, it sourced 100% of its palm oil through RSPO-certified sources, an action that seems promising on the sustainable front, given that most palm oil plantations clear-cut forests, release carbon emissions, and need lots of water.
On their sustainability page, Dunkin’ Donuts asserts that it is committed to treating animals humanely and that it is “committed to sourcing 100% of the eggs for the Dunkin’ U.S. menu from cage-free sources by 2025.” Cage-free eggs do not really clarify how the chickens are treated or the environmental practices of the company producing the eggs. From this statement, it is also unclear if this cage-free initiative applies to Dunkin’s donuts, or other items. But, the largest red flag remains: why is Dunkin’ waiting until 2025 to implement these objectives?
Despite Dunkin’ promoting that its donuts are fresh, I could find no reputable information on how the donuts are made, including whether they are fried in-store, fully cooked in a facility and shipped to franchises, or something else. What is Dunkin’ hiding?
Dunkin’ Donuts provides its supplier code of conduct on its website, and I appreciate this labor transparency. Despite this document, Dunkin’ does not seem to have, or at least, promote, any social justice or equity initiatives, which makes me question the the strength of the company’s commitment to fair labor practices. Since Dunkin’ Donuts does not own, process, or transport livestock, and it most likely lacks a lot of control over the labor practices in different areas of the animal agriculture supply chain, so it is hard to assess the rights and benefits of the people who produce and supply Dunkin’ Donuts ingredients. Overall, I would like Dunkin’ to be more transparent about the sustainability of its ingredients and its labor practices.