Dunkin' Donuts, looking to phase out its signature foam cups, is testing recyclable-plastic versions to see if they can withstand temperatures of 200 degrees Fahrenheit while helping preserve the environment.
The chain recently started using polypropylene hot-coffee cups in about 100 locations in New York, Vermont, Massachusetts and California, according to Scott Murphy, chief supply chain officer at Dunkin' Brands Group Inc., the parent of the brand. In a telephone interview, Murphy said that Dunkin' will probably make a decision on a foam cup alternative next year and begin a nationwide introduction in 2016.
"Consumers want a more environmentally friendly product," Murphy said. "But they don't want to sacrifice the performance of the current foam cup."
Dunkin' said in its 2012 corporate responsibility report that it would find an alternative to foam within two to three years. About a year ago, it began testing a double-walled paper cup in restaurants in Brookline in its home state of Massachusetts, after the city banned polystyrene food containers. In July, fifth-grade students called on Dunkin' to get rid of foam cups, delivering a petition to its headquarters in Canton.
Other food and drink chains have made efforts to make packaging more sustainable. Starbucks Corp. has been adding recycling to its stores in the United States and last year began selling a $1 reusable cup. McDonald's Corp. started serving hot drinks out of paper cups and has said changing all of its U.S. restaurants to paper will take several years.
Polypropylene cups are sturdy, don't require a sleeve to keep hands cool and can be recycled through most city curbside programs, Murphy said. Still, he said they're more expensive than foam, which are good insulators and relatively cheap to make. "We've been working on this for five years," he said. "It's an interesting problem."
Dunkin' Brands, which also owns the Baskin-Robbins ice-cream stores, said Thursday that it expects third-quarter United States same store sales for the coffee chain to increase by as much as 2.25 percent, below what analysts were estimating on average, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
Shares of the company, which has about 7,800 Dunkin' Donuts stores across the United States and trades on the Nasdaq, were down 38 cents, 0.8 percent, at $46.40 in early trading Thursday.