Dunkin’ Brands (DNKN), the parent company of Dunkin’ Donuts and Baskin Robbins, does not want to wade into politics. And in making that point, at a law conference in Boston on Monday, one of its executives appeared to take a shot at Starbucks.
“We are not Starbucks (SBUX), we aren’t political,” said Dunkin’ Brands VP of brand stewardship Drayton Martin on a lunch panel at the 2019 meeting of INTA, the International Trademark Association, according to multiple tweets from attendees. (The panel was not recorded, and INTA says it has no transcript.)
Martin said Dunkin has no interest in putting designs on its cups to start cultural conversations.
“We don't want to engage you in political conversation, we want to get you in and out of our store in seconds,” she said, according to tweets. Starbucks in the past has occasionally used its cup designs and baristas to attempt to start cultural conversations on issues like race.
Three Dunkin’ Brand executives were on the INTA lunch panel: Martin; director of legal counsel Alana Sharenow; and director of retail business development Chuck Kantner.
"we are not starbucks, we aren't political-- we aren't gonna put stuff on our cups to start conversations. we don't want to engage you in political conversation, we want to get you in & out of our store in seconds. it's donuts & ice cream-- just be happy."#dunkin #inta2019— alexandra j. roberts (@lexlanham) May 20, 2019
Dunkin isn't Starbucks, they don't want to start a conversation on their cups. They want you in and out in a minute and twenty seconds. Have conversations with your friends; Dunkin isn't your friend. (This is such a New England attitude, I love it.) #INTA2019— Stacey Lantagne (@StaceyLantagne) May 20, 2019
Martin added, according to another law professor in attendance, “We don't want people burning their Munchkin boxes.”
That sentiment is a reference to multiple instances, over the last two years, of consumers burning or destroying products—from Keurig machines to Nike socks—to protest the perceived political views of those brands.
On issues of social conscience, Dunkin' can't stay neutral, but wants to make everyone feel welcome. "We don't want people burning their munchkin' boxes." So everything with social or political overtones has to be case by case and avoid partisanship. #INTA2019— Betsy Rosenblatt (@221Betsy) May 20, 2019
In a country that is increasingly divided politically, consumer-facing brands are finding themselves drawn into political debates, even at times when they have tried to avoid commenting on such issues. It has happened to Tic Tac, Tiki Brand torches, Papa John’s pizza, and Under Armour, to name just a few.
Of course, even in saying that it does not wish to be political, and in accusing Starbucks of being political, some see Drayton Martin’s comment as being just as political. Twitter users, in replies to tweets about Martin’s comment, pointed out the irony.
Dunkin’ Brands did not immediately respond to a request for further comment from Yahoo Finance on Monday afternoon.
Disclosure: One of the law professors at the INTA meeting who tweeted about the Dunkin’ executive’s comments is the author’s sister.
Daniel Roberts is a senior writer at Yahoo Finance who closely covers food and coffee. Follow him on Twitter at @readDanwrite.