Like pizza, burgers, and hot dogs, donuts are an icon of popular American culture. Over the years, it always interested me driving through Seoul and seeing more and more Dunkin' Donuts.
Several years ago I watched as Krispy Kreme entered the Korean market. Today, competition between rivals is vigerous--and like coffee shops--donut shops are becoming part of Seoul's urban landscape.
Sales of donuts have exploded in recent years on the rising notion that eating the fried dough is trendy as well as retailers' efforts to cater to Korean tastes.
The country's oldest donut franchise Dunkin' Donuts has leading market presence with nearly 500 stores accounting for 90 percent of all donut shops in the country.
The U.S. donut giant continues to stay fresh by revamping its menus by developing items that appeal to health-conscious Koreans. Its latest efforts are reflected in new stores equipped with kitchens.
When the Krispy Kreme donut chain opened its first store here four years ago, it enjoyed instant success thanks in part to American TV series "Sex and the City," one of whose lead characters craved the donut while on a diet.
These donuts are greasier than those from other places because its main focus is in maintaining its all-American taste and flair. And that approach seems to be working with Koreans, especially those in their 20s and 30s.
Their marketing strategy is the same around the world -- the red "hot lights" signaling glazed donuts fresh out of the oven and the glassed-in donut assembly line, the so-called "donut theaters."
Last year the domestic market added two new donut brands to the retail mix. Mister Donut, once Dunkin's biggest rival in the U.S., now holds court mainly in Japan.
That explains the chewy quality of their donuts which are made to appeal to Asians who prefer chewier snacks like rice cakes.
And the newest donut on the block is Doughnut Plant New York City, targeting those with more refined tastes in junk food. Its products are said to be free of synthetic additives and eggs and fried in corn oil. Their only store in Korea does attract a steady crowd.
The domestic donut scene began with a single store catering to foreigners in 1994 but has since developed into a business with a Western ambiance aimed squarely at Koreans' palates.