“First, Let’s Enjoy the Taste” How Popular Japanese Chain ‘Mister Donut’ Woos Over Local Singaporean Crowd | Exclusive Interview with Mr. Atsushi Seki

A Hit with Locals

Popular Japanese donut chain store Mister Donut opened its first permanent store in Singapore back in May 2023, stirring much buzz amongst the locals. Snaking queues can be seen at the storefronts located in Bishan and Novena, with willing patrons queueing for hours for a taste of Mister Donut.

The Japanese chain store is famous for its Pon-De-Ring donuts, which are mochi-donuts with a distinctive soft, chewy texture. It comes in a variety of flavours: plain, chocolate and strawberry. In addition to the Pon-De-Ring donuts, the brand also offers a sizable selection of other flavours, including: the old-fashioned donuts featuring a more cake-like texture, and the cruller donuts with a fluffy exterior and soft cream filling on the inside. The donuts are sold at an affordable price range of SGD2.3 - $2.5 per donut, slightly lower than the price point of other donuts sold in donut-specialty shops across Singapore.

Even at 7 months after its opening, the charm of Mister Donut is unmistakable. At 5p.m on a weekday, we can see a bustling queue forming in front of Mister Donut at Novena, with the store’s seats fully taken up. We sat down with Mr. Atsushi Seki, Corporate Vice President of RE&S who owns the popular Japanese donut chain, to find out all about the story behind Mister Donut’s success in Singapore.

Why Singapore?

When asked about his thoughts on the booming popularity of Mister Donut in Singapore, Mr. Seki admits that the reaction from the local crowd was “more than [he] expected”, and a pleasant surprise for him. In fact, the popularity of these Pon-De-Ring donuts amongst the Singaporean crowd sees the need to set a sales purchase limit at the outlets here. Otherwise, it might leave other customers in the queue disappointed and empty-handed. “We aim to satisfy all customers,” Mr. Seki explained.

Mr. Seki shares that the decision to enter a small market, with players who are close-competitors already present, is not one that is met without resistance. Nonetheless, the Jurong Point pop-up trial in July 2022 was a pivoting point, which gave Mr. Seki and the company the confidence they needed to bring Mister Donut to Singapore. “After the trial, we thought: maybe, we can survive here,” he recalled.

The queue for Mister Donut back then was an impressive 3 to 4 hours wait. Even as the hype calmed down after a month-long period, there was still an hour-long queue for Mister Donut every day. To Mr. Seki, this sustained demand was a healthy sign that the brand was likely a match with the locals’ palate. Afterall, Singaporeans do welcome sweets as part of their lifestyle. Take a stroll along any one of the bustling roads, from Clarke Quay to Paya Lebar, and you’d be able to find a variety of storefronts selling sweet-treats and desserts.

Another reason to enter the Singaporean market, Mr. Seki explained, is because of the potential to generate impact for Mister Donut brand in the region.

During the Jurong Point trial, Mr. Seki frequently spoke to customers in the queue, curious to find out the reasons behind their willingness to endure such a long waiting time for their donuts. To his surprise, up to 90% of the patrons in the queue were local Singaporean customers, with Japanese patrons making up only 10% of the crowd. As it turned out, many Singaporeans had already come to hear of Mister Donut, be it from its origin country of Japan, or its chain stores in neighbouring countries like Thailand and Taiwan. This led Mr. Seki to the understanding that regional influence had helped to propel Mister Donut’s brand name to parts of the world where it had not made a mark yet.

Singapore is often looked towards as a role model in the region, for its economic growth, efficiency, and social stability. At the same time, with rampant cross-border travels and business activities, tourist footfall remains consistently high. The above reasons successfully convinced Mr. Seki and his team that Singapore is where Mister Donut could possibly take impact generation up a notch – impact that will reverberate through the region. Mr. Seki laments that it will be a rather short-sighted strategy to only look at market size and sales volume. By considering the impact which a market can bring, Mister Donut could grow in its influence across the world.

The Formula for Success

“Affordable prices, high-quality taste, and a match in consumer taste profile,” is Mr. Seki’s answer in response to why he thinks Mister Donut had exceeded expectations in Singapore.

While acknowledging that there are already donut specialty stores with a stable foothold in the Singaporean F&B scene, Mr. Seki also saw the high demand of sweets in the Singaporean market. He believes that as long as the price point is taken care of, Mister Donut can have a substantial market in Singapore, selling quality donuts at an affordable price.

“The official closing hours for our stores is supposed to be 9.30p.m,” Mr. Seki shares, “But we have never opened our doors till that late, as demand is really high. We usually have to close our stores by 7 or 8p.m as we would have sold out our donuts by then.”

As Mister Donut still produces its donuts daily, the donuts cannot be restocked so easily. Mr. Seki commented that while he could increase the production of the donuts to meet patrons’ demand, this would come at the cost of compromising the quality of the donuts. “We cannot compromise on quality,” Mr. Seki states matter-of-factly. In fact, quality control is one area that Mr. Seki continuously highlights as crucial. He touts staff training as one of the core challenges faced by Mister Donut Singapore.

In fact, in order to get ready for Mister Donut’s debut in Singapore, Mr. Seki had flown over to Japan to join the Mister Donut Academy, alongside 7 other staff members. During the team’s 2-week long training, they studied not only the production methods, but also the philosophy behind Mister Donut.

In Japan, the Mister Donut Academy is a well-established training school for the staff members of Mister Donut. Affectionately dubbed the Harvard of Donuts, the academy provides specialised training in both donut-making as well as customer service. With production now similarly taking place in Singapore, it is a core concern of Mr. Seki for staff to acquire substantial training in order to maintain the quality of donuts and service alike, for Mister Donut Singapore.

Localisation as Key to Long-term Survival

Even though the Mister Donut stores are bustling as we speak, Mr. Seki foresees a drop in future demand of Mister Donut’s products in Singapore – something he observes as natural, and has similarly happened for its Japanese counterparts.

While Mister Donut Singapore cannot be certified halal due to its ingredients being sourced from Japan, Mr. Seki shares that the ‘No Pork, No Lard’ aspect of their products has been particularly highlighted, as part of consideration for the Muslim community in Singapore. With Mister Donut becoming an increasingly popular choice for big gatherings and parties, Mr. Seki recognises the importance for Mister Donut’s products to be an inclusive choice that can be safely consumed by all Singaporeans.

Apart from flavours of the donuts, Mr. Seki pointed out that there is a need to adapt to the environment in different countries.

With a chuckle, he recalls seeing comments on social media, remarking how Singapore’s Mister Donut does not have the free coffee refill option that is available in Japan, much to their dismay. “There are limitations to replicating the exact same experience in Singapore,” he remarked. For instance, the high rental fee in Singapore makes it difficult to have a sit-down Mister Donut store here. To replicate the sit-down experience and free coffee re-fills in Singapore, he would likely have to drastically increase the price of the donuts in order to do so.

In Japan, many stores take on a self-service approach, granting customers the freedom to select their donuts at their own leisure. In Singapore, the temperature and humidity differences make it hard for donuts to be as readily displayed, Mr. Seki said. The subsequent melted icing and sugary contents will attract more bugs and flies, resulting in a hygiene issue. Therefore, Mr. Seki says, it is crucial to understand both the cultural and geographical environment of the market. Adjustments can then be made gradually to suit the different circumstances for the optimal experience.

A Japanese Brand at Heart

According to Mr. Seki, collaboration with other artisans and brands has been one of Mister Donut’s key strategies to keep it at the forefront of the sweets industry. He mentions that collaboration with local Singaporean brands to create more authentic, localised flavours and experience is currently in the books.

Nonetheless, collaborations with other Japanese brands, Mr. Seki muses, is what he really wants to bring to Mister Donut stores in Singapore. An example of this would be Mister Donut’s latest Matcha Pon-De-Ring, launched in collaboration with partnering brand MORIHAN, a renowned Japanese tea products company based in Uji, Kyoto.

“Collaborations with other authentic Japanese brands bring good synergy,” Mr. Seki said. Mister Donut can offer partnering brands a valuable platform to introduce their brand name to the Singaporean market, value-adding to their businesses. At the same time, these special collaborations allow Mister Donut to offer differentiated products at a higher value, which patrons will still be willing to purchase. For instance, the Matcha Pon-De-Ring is going at SGD$3 in stores, above the usual price range of SGD$2.3 – $2.5. For both Mister Donut and the partners, this is a win-win situation.

At the end of the day, Mister Donut is a Japanese brand. No matter how far the business expands to, Mr. Seki would like their patrons to be reminded of the brand’s Japanese heritage.

What’s Ahead for Mister Donut in Singapore?

Mr. Seki reveals that there are expansion plans to increase the number of Mister Donut outlets in Singapore in the next 5 years. However, this number is likely going to be capped at a maximum of 20 outlets, as any more outlets may cause the outlets to cannibalise on each other’s business in the land-scarce Singapore.

On the operational end, Mr. Seki seeks to increase the standardisation of training and quality control in Singapore, so as to maintain the exceptional taste of Mister Donuts that is driving its popularity within the local population.

Sourced from: misterdonut.sgExternal site: a new window will open. (tagged photos)

At present, Mister Donut is keen to execute more marketing plans for the brand.

“When I take taxis, I always ask the taxi-uncle: ‘Do you know what is Mister Donut?’ 90% of them will say they have no idea.” With the bustle of the initial opening settling down, Mr. Seki points out that the direction at this point is time is to get Mister Donut’s brand name to be known by more Singaporeans.

“First, let’s enjoy the taste,” Mr. Seki beams. This simple sentence perfectly captures the quiet confidence placed in the taste of Mister Donut, a result achieved through painstaking care and effort.

For Mr. Seki, the ultimate goal for Mister Donut in Singapore is to be like Pepper Lunch.

He points out that many locals are unaware that Pepper Lunch is in fact a popular Japanese franchise, headquartered in Tokyo. Today, it is not uncommon for Pepper Lunch to be seen inside local Singaporean food-courts, sandwiched in-between local fares like Chicken Rice and Indian Cuisine. By walking into the local food-court scene, it signifies that Pepper Lunch has become a viable option for Singaporeans’ day-to-day meals.

For Mister Donut’s future ahead in Singapore, Mr. Seki says that he hopes that the brand can similarly become one of Singaporeans’ go-to choice of sweets – one that is not just reserved for special occasions, but for daily consumption.

Visit Mister Donut’s Stores in Singapore Here:

Mister Donut @ Bishan Junction 8
9 Bishan Pl, #02-27A Junction 8, Singapore 579837
Mister Donut @ Novena Square
238 Thomson Rd, #01 - 72 / 73
Velocity @ Novena Square, Singapore 307683
[Opening in April 2024] Mister Donut @ Jurong Point
Jurong Point Shopping Centre, 63 Jurong West Central 3, 648331
[Opening in April 2024] Mister Donut @ North Point
930 Yishun Ave 2, Singapore 769098
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