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The lowdown on the US brand entering new territories

The lowdown on the US brand entering new territories

From the sandy beaches in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, Duck Donuts is expanding its warm, delicious and made-to-order donuts worldwide

What started on a whim in the small beach town of Duck, North Carolina, has quickly grown into one of the nation’s fastest-growing donut franchise companies. With nearly 100 donut shops operational in the United States and internationally, Duck Donuts is loved and adored for its warm, delicious, and unique made-to-order donut experience.

In 2006, Russ DiGilio, Duck Donuts founder and CEO, was on a mission to solve a family vacation problem. “Our family wanted a place to buy warm, delicious, made-to-order donuts, and when we couldn’t find one, we decided to start our own,” said DiGilio.

By 2011, Duck Donuts had expanded to four Outer Banks locations and the donut business was so successful that DiGilio was continuously approached about franchise opportunities by fans who begged for a Duck Donuts in their community. The first franchise opened in Williamsburg, Virginia, in 2013, and there are now 98 open franchise locations in 19 states and more than 145 additional contracts in 27 states. Internationally, Duck Donuts has one operating location in Dubai, and master franchise agreements in three additional countries.

Through the unique experience, customers can create their own donut combination, starting with a vanilla cake donut and then choosing from a variety of coatings, toppings, and drizzles, including traditional favourites such as chocolate icing with sprinkles and more adventurous creations such as maple icing with bacon. The family-friendly stores offer a viewing area where children and adults alike can watch their donuts being made from scratch to finish.

Another aspect guests enjoy is the everchanging introduction of new limited-time flavours, such as Key lime and orange icing, and a chopped apple topping. With a strong focus on product innovation, in recent years, the company has also added menu items including vegan donuts, a chocolate cake-based donut, a donut breakfast sandwich, donut sundaes, espresso beverages, and milkshakes.

To date, Duck Donuts’ growth has been organic, with much franchise interest stemming from personal experiences at the original locations in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, or along the East Coast. In order to continue the momentum of one of the fastest-growing donut franchises, the company is looking at a more aggressive approach to selling franchise agreements domestically and internationally, with a strong focus in tourist and resort areas, as well as non-traditional locations.

Sweet international expansion

Despite the overall challenges of 2020, Duck Donuts continued to see positive growth both domestically and internationally. In June, the company opened its first location outside the mainland of the United States in Bayamón, Puerto Rico, to much fanfare. Most recently, the brand also celebrated an international milestone with the opening of its first store in Dubai, one of the world’s fastest-growing and most dynamic markets and tourist destinations.

“Entering new territories such as the competitive market in Puerto Rico and the tourist hub in Dubai, officially kicked off our global expansion,” said DiGilio. “Having a presence in an international hub for tourism such as Dubai will open up opportunities as we continue to strategically grow and develop the brand in international areas of interest.”

Later this year and into 2021, Duck Donuts will begin expanding its presence in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Australia.

As Duck Donuts continues its global expansion, the company is now offering a flexible footprint that still remains true to its core brand focus, being able to serve warm, customized donuts, in a family-friendly atmosphere. Flexible footprints range from 400-1,500 square feet, and have demonstrated to be a proven business model for non-traditional locations such as food trucks, airports, and stadiums. Duck Donuts is prepared to keep striving towards achieving its mission of serving an edible ring of happiness around the world.

Consumer convenience

Duck Donuts significantly invests in technology in order to provide the best platforms for its franchisees, as well as provide a seamless and convenient customer experience.

Ahead of the COVID-19 pandemic, Duck Donuts launched its first system-wide mobile app point-based loyalty programme, Duck Donuts Rewards. Available to download on the Apple Store and Google Play, the app is designed to work seamlessly with Duck Donuts’s existing point-of-sale technology.

As a Duck Donuts Rewards member, guests can order ahead in the app and skip the line, or scan the app in-store to pay. Customers earn five points for every dollar spent that unlock sweet rewards as the status levels increase, including free donuts and coffee. Since the official launch in February 2020, the company has secured nearly 100,000 downloads, generating more than $1m in sales.

“The goal for our loyalty programme is to increase customer frequency, drive consumer behaviours and continue to grow brand awareness,” said Betsy Hamm, Duck Donuts COO. “In less than a year, we have already received strong consumer-driven data that gives us a better insight into our target audiences, allowing us to best meet the needs of our loyal guests.”

As consumer behaviour shifted during the pandemic, it brought to the forefront of the restaurant industry that brands need to keep customer convenience in mind. Duck Donuts continues to evaluate the ways it offers convenience to its customers in order to best meet their needs. Fortunately, before coronavirus began to impact the United States, Duck Donuts already had a few initiatives active, such as its online ordering platform and mobile app.

Ducks that flock together, stay together

As the coronavirus began to impact the United States in March 2020, Duck Donuts corporate team quickly prioritized internal communication with franchisees and began sharing critical operations and marketing next steps. Duck Donuts franchisees immediately took preventive safety measures in an effort to mitigate the in-store risk of exposure to the coronavirus, such as eliminating seating to promote social distancing, encouraging online and mobile orders through Duck Donuts’ website and the Duck Donuts Rewards app, expanding the option for curbside service, amending store hours to allow for employee relief, additional deep cleaning, and disinfecting procedures, and moving the self-serve coffee bar behind the register.

“Our doors may have been temporarily closed, but our warm donuts were still available as we aimed to provide a comfort treat to families in the communities we serve,” said DiGilio. “Our corporate team and franchisees remained committed to demonstrating to our guests that we take great pride in delivering on our purpose statement – guaranteeing every customer a clean, courteous, family-friendly, fun and scrumptious experience.

It is important we provide this quality of service now more than ever.” As sales quickly began to drop across the industry, Duck Donuts started to think outside the box in order to survive.

In addition to the safety measure put in place, the company launched a Duck Donuts Decorating Kit, serving as a unique and fun activity for those staying home and giving families the chance to become an official donut topper. Since the start of the pandemic in the U.S., many locations have resumed experiencing positive growth, including same-store sales.

During the second quarter of 2020, franchisees also continued to live out one of the company’s core values of being integrated with their local community. Many franchisees donated donuts as a way to thank frontline and essential workers in healthcare, groceries stores, mail clerks, and more.

“As we pushed through the pandemic together, I could not have been more proud of our corporate team and group of franchisees who demonstrated what it takes to be resilient, persistent and sprinkle happiness during a time of a global crisis,” said DiGilio. “Working alongside our franchise owners during a difficult time only further strengthened our relationship and trust.”

Corporate supports the flight

Duck Donuts Franchising Company has a team of experienced experts ready to assist franchisees during their journey. From the process of market research to site selection, construction, and design to operations, training, and marketing support, the corporate team works closely with each franchise owner to help them succeed. The dedicated team ensures franchisees are prepared to run and grow a profitable Duck Donuts business.

The global donut market is expected to reach $63bn by 2025. The donut category continues to experience growth due to the accelerating habit of looking for comfort foods and changing lifestyle in urban cities and makes a great fit for multi-franchise owners looking to round out their portfolio.

Duck Donuts is ready to transition from emerging to an established brand and is looking for franchisees to be a part of the company’s growth.

At a glance Duck Donuts


2006 (franchising since 2013)

Number of franchised outlets:

98 (1 corporate-owned)

Location of units:

U.S., Puerto Rico, UAE, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (in development), Australia (in development), Canada (in development), Egypt (in development)

Total investment:

$353,000 - $573,000

Franchise fee:

Subject to territory and number of units


Dwayne Hoffman, dhoffman@ (U.S.), or Marcel Portmann, (international)

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