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What Do Consumers Want? Donuts With a Side of Salad

Dessert Trends, Food Tech, Food Trends, Global Flavors, Ingredient Trends, Innovation, Menu Trends, Restaurants
caesar salad in paper box, donut and matcha in plastic cap

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The fastest-growing chain in America sells donuts. The second-fastest serves….salads.

This, in a nutshell, is the story of what consumers want post-COVID: Indulgence, sweetness, fun, but with a hearty balance of health.

The split in where American consumers have put their dollars may seem a bit disjointed – after all, you can’t have your cake and your greens, too, right? But in fact this result is perhaps the biggest example yet that consumers are actively balancing their overall picture of health with frequent sweet treats.

“It’s such a fascinating trend – this dichotomy between healthfulness and indulgence,” said Huy Do, research and insights manager and the report’s author. “We’ve seen this trend happening over the past two years we’ve done this report.”

Mochinut, a Los Angeles-based chain that sells mochi donuts, bubble tea and Korean hot dogs, is the fastest growing restaurant in America in terms of both unit and sales growth, according to the fifth edition of Datassential’s annual Top 500 Report, formerly the Firefly 500+.

Mochinut catapulted over 2021’s fastest-growing chain, fellow dessert retailer Crumbl. Its units grew by 156% last year, and its total sales increased by 243.7%.

Salad And Go, a tech-forward fast-food salad chain with locations concentrated in the Southwest, saw its units expand by 115.8% in 2022, while sales rose 166.3%.

While these two chains aren’t even close to the biggest restaurant chains – Subway is the largest in terms of units and McDonald’s is No. 1 in terms of sales – one can read a lot into the pair’s ascendance.

Here are some tenets they underscore:

Consumers want the best of both worlds

For many consumers, it’s about maintaining a healthy lifestyle, and making food a big part of that. That can mean many things to many different people – from focusing on heart health or plant-based eating to an adherence to strict diets, like keto. But that doesn’t mean they don’t want to make life a little sweeter: All in all, nearly a quarter of consumers eat dessert every day.

Global foods are a win-win

Consumers are craving more globally inspired flavors – both in savory and sweet applications. Sauces and spices are a good place to start introducing them, but younger consumers in particular are also flocking to new concepts like Mochinut to experiment with more global flavors.

Tech-forward is a good way to go

Both Mochinut and Salad And Go have a big presence on social media and have invested in technology to make the customer experience fast and painless. Salad And Go’s drive-thru concepts make healthy eating easy, and Mochinut’s weekly menu announcements and slick in-store kiosks make perusing and ordering a snap.

But don’t bring “healthy” to dessert

Here’s where the pair diverge: When consumers choose a dessert, they don’t want to worry about health. Most just want a little bit of indulgence or craving satisfaction – even if that happens to be every day.

So go ahead, have a little dessert with your salad – consider this pairing the new American comfort food.


Samantha Des Jardins is a Content & Marketing Manager at Datassential.

For access to a preview of the report’s highlights, click here. The full report is available only to subscribers. If you’d like to become a subscriber, reach out here.

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