Dunkin’ Donuts files plans to launch Bagel Bunchkins in US

Dunkin’ Donuts took doughnut holes, called them Munchkins, and made them a hit. Can it work the same branding magic with bagel pieces?

The Canton-based restaurant chain, the nation’s largest seller of bagels among quick service restaurants, recently tried to trademark the name “Bagel Bunchkin” to market bite-size bagel pieces in the United States. Dunkin' won’t say when it will introduce the new product or provide details of exactly what a Bagel Bunchkin might entail.

But Dunkin’, which began selling bagels in 1996, has a history of bagel innovation, introducing a long, braided bagel called a “Bagel Twist” in 2010. The company also started selling in South Korea a version of the bagel hole shaped like a small roll and stuffed with jalapeño-spiced sausage. “It’s a little bit spicy,” Dunkin boasts.

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Some Dunkin’ regulars have already spotted small, round bagel pieces, similar to doughnut Munchkins, occasionally sold at US stores. Jeff Cutler, a freelance journalist, even tweeted a picture of poppy-seeded bagel holes he found at a store on the South Shore last year.

Cutler said he could not remember what Dunkin’ called them, but joked that they used to be called “scraps.”

The Dunkin’ trademark application indicates the doughnut maker probably plans to launch the bagel pieces soon, said Anderson J. Duff, a trademark lawyer at Wolf Greenfield, a Boston firm specializing in intellectual property. He noted companies are not allowed to apply for US trademarks unless they are already using a brand name or intend to do so in the next few years.

“It’s pretty safe to say they have plans to use it,” Duff said.

Several other US companies, such as Einstein Noah Restaurant Group of Lakewood, Colo., are selling bagel holes or other downsized versions of the traditional bagel. Einstein’s product, called Bagel Poppers, resembles doughnut holes — except made out of bagel dough. Poppers are coated with a variety of toppings, such as cinnamon-sugar and pumpkin cream cheese.

“They’re very popular,” said Chad Thompson, senior director of research and development at Einstein Noah, which operates 775 restaurants in 39 states, primarily under the Einstein Bros. and Noah’s names.

But if Dunkin’ enters the bagel pieces market, it is not certain the Bunchkin name will make it. In May, the US Patent and Trademark Office tentatively rejected the Dunkin’ application, noting that the Fred Meyer Stores supermarket chain already registered the rights to the name “The Bagel Bunch” for its traditional bagel line.

Dunkin’ has until next month to appeal. If the company is ultimately turned down for the Bunchkin trademark, the chain could decide to use the brand anyway (without the same degree of legal protection against others using a similar name)or come up with something else. Maybe Bagel Munchkins?