Runnin’ with Dunkin’ From Tree to Cup

Runnin’ with Dunkin’ From Tree to Cup

Features - Cover Story

The production process at Dunkin’ Brands, parent company of Dunkin’ Donuts, focuses on quality, consistency and freshness.

April 19, 2018

MZB Coffee Operation Specialist Luis Burgos prepares a roasted sample of coffee beans for “cupping.”
Matt Greenslade

By Lisa Lupo

When your customer-facing crew is required to serve only fresh-brewed coffee — discarding any that has sat on the burner for 18 minutes, you’d better be backing that up with a production process that focuses on quality, consistency, and freshness all the way to the tree.

That is exactly what Dunkin’ Brands, parent company of Dunkin’ Donuts, requires of its employees and partners: from the Dunkin’ Donuts shops, where coffee has become a significant part of the business, to the roasting facilities, and the Central and South American suppliers. Dunkin’ does not own any of the facilities that manufacture its coffee. But, said Hélène Marsot, Dunkin’ Brands senior manager of quality assurance for coffee and beverages, “We own the specifications. We own the quality program.”

It is a quality program that is very defined, extensive, and unique. “After 40 years in the business, I can tell you there is no one else that does the Dunkin’ program,” said Charlie Cortellini. Cortellini is vice president of research and development for Massimo Zanetti Beverage USA (MZB), whose Moonachie, N.J., plant roasts and packages Dunkin’ coffees.

It is precisely because Dunkin’ doesn’t own the facilities that the specificity of the program is critical. “We approve the process, but we are not on the production line, so we have to be very clear in our expectations,” Marsot said. “If you don’t make it clear; if you’re not signing a contract, you can’t tell them they’re not doing it (right).” And those specified processes go all the way back to the tree, with control points and verification points throughout the chain.

QUALITY CHECKS. Through Dunkin’s “Tree to Cup” quality management program, a single lot of coffee may be tested eight times — or more — before it is approved for market.

  • At source. All green coffee is sourced only from countries and regions which have been prequalified and approved by the Dunkin’ quality assurance team. But no coffee leaves the country of origin until it is sampled by an independent lab, which certifies 100% of the containers to Dunkin’ quality. Additionally, an annual green coffee calibration is conducted in each place of origin by the Dunkin’ quality team, the lab, and the exporters.
  • At the U.S. port. Any incoming coffee beans for Dunkin’ are sampled by the importer for its own and the roaster’s quality control programs. Additionally, 10% of every lot of containers is sampled to Dunkin’ quality by an independent U.S. lab, and 10% is sampled by the Dunkin’ coffee excellence team at headquarters to validate quality, as well as the U.S. and origin lab calibrations.
  • At the roasting facility. MZB’s Moonachi facility has two internal quality assurance labs. The first lab samples the incoming beans to approve it for production. The second, adjacent to the plant floor, samples the coffee throughout the process to assure finished product meets Dunkin’s specifications. Additionally, an independent lab and the Dunkin’ team will validate finished product quality to Dunkin’s specs. “The beans are approved at origin, but you can’t just rely on that,” Marsot said. “The manufacturer has to certify that it is still in spec.”

The ongoing checks and sampling also are critical because, “one bad seed can spoil the whole lot,” said Terrance Sullivan, MZB senior manager of green coffee commodities. “I can’t take a bad bean and make it good; but we can take a good bean and make it bad. I can do everything right, but if it is left on the burner for a half hour, the quality is lost. Every step has to be monitored and diligently adhered to.”

This is not to say that every single bean is absolutely perfect. “As an agricultural product, there is a tendency to have imperfections,” Sullivan said. Thus, there is a specification for allowed defects, such as unripened “quakers.” “Every defect has an allowance,” he said. “What is not allowed is contamination.”

Thus, Marsot said, “Calibration of all suppliers and partners against Dunkin’ specifications is key to maintaining consistent quality.” For example, every facility needs to rate the quality aspects to the same scale, so that a color, size, or breakage rating of a “9” of 10 is the same for all partners. A Dunkin’ Donuts shop also may receive coffee from different roasting facilities, so each delivery needs to be the same regardless of the roaster from which it comes. “We have to have them thinking the Dunkin’ way,” she said. “And at Dunkin’, the definition of quality is consistency.”

This consistency also is critical to the blend. While coffee beans may come in from Brazil, Colombia, Guatemala, Mexico, or other countries, the Dunkin’ blend follows the crop cycle, setting the blend to each country’s standard harvest to provide consistency year ’round, Marsot said. Dunkin’ allows for some flexibility, but she said, “Good years shouldn’t require any adjustments; in bad years, we may need to make changes.” But, regardless of the year, she said, “Our roasters can only use the current crop for Dunkin’.”

The MZB/Dunkin’ coffee production management team includes (from left, standing): MZB Vice President of Research & Development Charlie Cortellini; Dunkin’ Brands Quality Assurance Technologist Emily Travers; MZB Food Service Operations Director of Manufacturing Nigel Coelho; MZB QA Technician Dorota Szumniak; MZB Senior Manager of Green Coffee Commodities Terrance Sullivan; Dunkin’ Brands Senior Manager of Public Relations Justin Drake; (sitting) MZB TQA Manager Sophie Sularz; Dunkin’ Brands Senior Manager of Quality Assurance for Coffee and Beverages Hélène Marsot.
Matt Greenslade

Thus, to control coffee quality from the source, it also is critical to have a sense of business acumen, Cortellini said. Coffee is the second largest commodity that is globally traded, but nobody really sees “what goes on behind the curtain,” he said. In most areas, coffee is picked by hand as it ripens, just as it has been done for 200 years. But when the “C” (coffee) market is low, pickers may be sent out into the field less often, so more quality variation will be seen. Thus, he said, “You have to understand what is going on at the source — including economically. It’s a great study in supply and demand.”

In its second lab, next to the plant floor, MZB TQA Manager Sophie Sularz samples coffee throughout the process.
Matt Greenslade

NON-COMPETITORS FOR A DAY. One way in which consistency and Dunkin’ thinking is maintained at the manufacturing level is through the company’s annual meeting for which two quality assurance team members from each manufacturing facility travel to Dunkin’s headquarters. “The meeting is for those who do the work in the lab — not the VPs,” Marsot said. “And attendees rotate every year.”

The meeting’s purpose is to emphasize any issues, update training, and share knowledge. It also enables Dunkin’ to share successes and issues of the partners without naming names, enabling all to learn indirectly from each other. Because the manufacturers are Dunkin’ partners, not Dunkin’ employees, they also will manufacture their own or other coffees or beverages. But, Marsot said, “At home they are competitors, here they are a team.”

Cortellini agreed, “We may be competitors, but when we’re under the Dunkin’ roof and we talk, it’s pretty much a free flow of information as it relates to Dunkin’ quality.”

Automation enables employees to focus on the critical flow from a quality perspective — so they can focus on the quality of every cup.
Matt Greenslade

Similar knowledge sharing is conducted throughout the year through the computerization of data at all the roasting facilities. “Data collection helps us to track trends,” said MZB Food Service Operations Director of Manufacturing Nigel Coelho. The trends are used by Dunkin’ to develop comparative “score cards” showing roasters where they can improve relative to other roasters. It also enables Dunkin’ management to see any issues occurring across all roasters. For example, if it is discovered that there is an area in which everyone is out of spec, “we may realize we need to change the specification,” Marsot said. Or if there is an indication that there is a problem at a source, Marsot will travel to that supplier’s site and help guide them on corrective action.

AT MZB MOONACHIE. MZB also produces brands such as Hills Bros., Chock full o’Nuts, and Kauai Coffee. With its seven roasters, three whole bean lines, and five urn lines, it produces over a million pounds of coffee each week — with the largest portion geared to Dunkin’. But it is the level of automation that really sets the facility apart, Cortellini said. From its central control room that tracks everything from receipt of the green coffee beans to blending and grinding, the process is monitored and controlled by the quality control department. “Only Sophie (Sularz) and the QA team can approve any changes in the computer,” he said.

The coffee-roasting plant also uses automation in its case packing and shrink wrapping operations. Not only is it essential to maximize automation to be competitive in the Northeast, but Coelho also asks, “What do you want your employees focused on: folding boxes or checking quality? We have automation so they can focus on the critical flow from a quality perspective; so they can focus on the quality of every cup.”

Although the MZB facility has been in operation for more than 50 years, adapting its program to meet the quality specifications of Dunkin’ was not a simple process. “Everybody that has a roaster assumes they are a coffee roaster, but modifying what you do to adhere to Dunkin’ is still a learning curve,” Cortellini said. “Dunkin’ takes it to a whole new level. We feel they make us better at what we do.”

The author is Editor of QA magazine. She can be reached at