A sweet alternative: Movie chains serve up State Fair Mini Donuts


I have written many times that one of the reasons I love tradeshows and promote them is that you never know what new product you will find that has great potential to make you money.

Recently at the NAC trade show in Tampa, I met Dan Sher and his company: State Fair Mini Donuts. I should say right off the bat that I love donuts. So I admit it influenced me to try his product. (I have written similar things about milkshakes.) However, the product was delicious, the presentation was great, and Dan was lovely. This is his story.

Dan Sher registered the brand name State Fair Mini Donuts in 1986. He then spent many years trying to capitalize on a great name and a snack food he was convinced people loved. He started by selling to area grocers out of a small bakery, but it was a low-margin operation with little growth. In the years that ensued, he tried tourist stops, miniature-golf centers and small restaurants as venues to sell his donuts. Often, the deep-fryer operation landed him at odds with health departments. He worked long hours and made very little money, which was definitely seasonal following carnivals, parades and, yes, state fairs.

So Dan spent a few more years working on the product to be able to cook it in an oven instead of a fryer and keep the same great taste, to get away from the health department issues and give it a broader appeal. This paid off and delivered him a market he had not previously considered: movie theatres. In 2004, he started selling his product with ovens at Muller Family Theatres, in their Twin Cities movie houses. Since then, Sher has placed machines in some theatres, sold machines to others, or just sold his product to theatres which already have convection or TurboChef ovens.

He experienced tremendous growth from 2005 to 2010, mostly concentrating on the Midwest. In 2011, he decided to try to expand throughout the U.S. and Canada. For the first time, he exhibited at the 2011 International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions show in Orlando, Florida, and won the first-place Brass Ring Award for best new product at the show. This opened a lot of doors nationally and even internationally with Cineplex Entertainment, the largest theatre chain in Canada, which launched a test in five of their locations selling hot mini donuts using their TurboChef ovens. Sher currently sells his donuts in over 100 theatres across the U.S.

Sher says his movie theatre clients were at first concerned that the sale of hot mini donuts at their cinemas would cannibalize the sale of other products. But after doing extensive tests, the chains determined the sales of hot mini donuts brought in incremental money and they added the mini donuts to all their theatres. State Fair has provided cinemas with eight screens or more a mini donut oven at no charge, which runs on a standard outlet and has a very small space footprint. For cinemas under eight screens, they sell the ovens at a small cost. The ovens can produce a serving of hot mini donuts in less than 40 seconds; a TurboChef oven produces a serving of hot mini donuts in less than 20 seconds. State Fair has also now developed an expansive distributor network; Gold Medal has been one of their distributors for about six years.

I asked Dan about his success in the cinema industry and he replied, “One reason I feel we have had great success in the cinema industry, besides people absolutely loving mini donuts when they come hot out of the oven and sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar, is that we are not a large company and we will work with every cinema, large or small, and provide them custom POS material to fit the décor of their cinema. Also, hot mini donuts are one of the only foods people of all ages will eat morning, noon or night.”

You will have to decide for yourself. But State Fair Mini Donuts give you another option for a sweet snack at the movie theatre that is manageable and fun, and not very easy to replicate at home.

Dan Sher’s story is one of perseverance and success, which is always enlightening. Our industry is filled with these stories and hearing Dan’s at the show in Tampa and tasting his success was a real treat. You may reach him at (763) 438-2867 or at sher@statefairminidonuts.com.

E-mail your comments to Anita Watts at anitaw@reactornet.com.