The new affogato reflects a major shift in brand strategy for the coffee leader.

As Dunkin’ continues its identity transformation, an Italian treat could help the brand establish itself as a specialty coffee destination.

Last week, the company announced it would begin selling affogatos for $3.49 at Dunkin’–Baskin-Robbins combo stores.

Translating from Italian, the “drowned” moniker fits the dish, which features a scoop of gelato (or in this case, ice cream) submerged in espresso. While not as common as sweets like tiramisu, affogatos do pop up on menus across the U.S. However, its occurrence has been largely limited to upscale and fine-dining restaurants, making Dunkin’ the first major limited-service chain to offer the beverage-dessert hybrid.

On the surface level, the addition of the affogato could be viewed as a simple R&D move, uniting two favorites in a fresh way. However, the move could also be interpreted as yet another war cry wherein Dunkin’ is cementing its position as a specialty coffee purveyor—one that takes its cues from the czars of caffè: Italians.

In Italy, it’s de rigueur for coffeeshops to serve a vast array of espresso drinks, from macchiatos and americanos to affogatos and even caffè corretos (which includes a shot of grappa for good measure).

Beyond dropping “Donuts” from its name, Dunkin’ is intentionally moving away from bare-bones, high-quality coffee and aligning itself with those quintessentially Italian cafés. It’s a somewhat ironic shift in strategy given how the brand first launched itself into the premium coffee space by mocking the foreign-sounding names of such drinks served by competitors like Starbucks. [Anyone remember those grating and slightly tone-deaf “Fritalian” commercials of 2006?]

Aside from imbuing a certain European flair to the brand, affogatos could also help Dunkin’ capture the much sought-after millennials and Gen Zers.

“Dunkin currently scores higher among older consumers, while it is younger consumers (ages 18–34) who say they like to indulge in ‘fancy coffee drinks,” says Ted Marzilli, CEO of data products for market research firm YouGov. “The new promo fits with Dunkin’s stated strategy of rolling out its espresso-based offerings to appeal to millennial consumers. The challenge is peeling those millennials away from Starbucks and specialty coffee stores who have a head start on them.”

Indeed, of all age groups, 18- to 34-year-olds have the lowest positive impressions of Dunkin’, clocking in at 22 percent, according to YouGov. The brand is most popular among younger boomers and older Gen Xers with 29 percent of consumers ages 50–64 having a positive impression of the brand.

Only time will tell how the affogato is received and whether it has staying power. If it’s a runaway success, the offer could be extended to standalone Dunkin’ and Baskin-Robbins shops. If sales prove ho-hum it may remain at the combo stores or simply fade away as fruitless LTO.

In the meantime, Dunkin’ Brands will make a promotional push by offering free samples between n 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Monday, March 18.

Feature, Sapore