Katy Latimer Runs on Dunkin'

A career in food science has proven fruitful and delicious for Katy Latimer '97 (M.S.), vice president of culinary innovation at Dunkin’ Brands Group.

The next time you have a craving for that latest Dunkin’ Donuts coffee or donut, say the Girl Scouts-inspired thin mint latte, you can thank Katy Latimer ’97 (M.S.) for that.

Katy Latimer operating an espresso machine.

As vice president of culinary innovation at Dunkin’ Brands Group, Inc., she’s leading the team of culinary masterminds who conceive of and develop those new flavors that keep customers continually coming back to Dunkin’ Donuts and Baskin-Robbins. She plans and manages the strategic development of new and enhanced menu choices served to millions of customers at more than 20,000 Dunkin’ Donuts and Baskin-Robbins restaurants across the globe. 

So how does one even dream of getting a job in culinary innovation? For Latimer, it began when she was an undergraduate at McGill University, where she earned a B.S. in biochemistry.

“It really all started with a summer internship first at IBM, where I discovered I really wanted a career in research and development,” she says. “Then I had an opportunity to do an internship with Kraft General Foods, and that just really sealed my future in the food industry. I never thought about applying my science background in the food industry, but after that summer internship, I knew that was the industry I wanted to pursue as a career.”

She loved the environment of a research and development facility, as well as being “surrounded by a bunch of quirky scientists.”

“But also, when I got to Kraft, it was really interesting to see how science went into all the food products that we consume every day,” she says. “I had never really thought about that, so it was really intriguing, and it sparked my intellectual curiosity.”

Lucky enough to discover her passion while in college, Latimer also found that luck was on her side when Kraft offered her a full-time job as an associate chemist before graduation, though she had to promise to get her master’s degree right away. She started taking courses at Rutgers University, until Latimer discovered Manhattan College’s program in biotechnology, which she notes that she was “way more interested in,” and decided to pursue her M.S. in Riverdale while working at Kraft.

“What was so cool about the program at Manhattan was that I was able to take both science, as well as some engineering classes, which really prepared me for some critical experiences along my career path, so that was really great,” she notes.

Latimer joined Dunkin’ Brands in September after nearly two decades in leadership positions at PepsiCo, most recently as vice president of research and development, global beverage category. There, she led a 65-plus person product development and culinary team, and was responsible for innovation and portfolio transformation for PepsiCo’s global beverage category. She also helped to oversee the creation and launch of several new and next-generation brand products, including Pepsi’s first premium water, LifeWtr, as well as IZZE Fusions, Stubborn Craft Soda, Pure Leaf Tea House Collections, Starbucks Cold Brew, and Mtn Dew KickStart. 

Before rising through the ranks at PepsiCo, where she started as a principle research specialist, Latimer also held positions at Joseph E. Seagram & Sons and Kraft Foods, and served on the Board of Governors of the Flavor Extract Manufacturers Association.

“The coursework I took at Manhattan really enabled me to do a critical experience when I was at PepsiCo on their commercialization and engineering team,” explains Latimer, who is especially grateful to her adviser, Suzanne Rudnick, Ph.D., professor of chemistry and biochemistry, for supporting and encouraging her to finish her master’s degree at the College. “Having those foundational courses enabled me to really understand manufacturing and the skill of bringing products from bench to a large-scale manufacturer, and that broadened and enabled me to find the right footing when I was at PepsiCo and prepare me for the role here at Dunkin’ Brands.”

Having that strong background and knowing a little bit about everything helps, as her job isn’t just about product innovation — it also encompasses manufacturing, marketing, even equipment innovation. But that’s what keeps it exciting.

“I would say the fun thing about R&D is we’re always creating and innovating,” she says. “My day can be full of sampling with my chefs and food scientists in the lab, reviewing products and ensuring they’re meeting our taste requirements. But then also collaborating with our cross-functional partners in marketing, operations, quality and equipment, to ensure that the products we’re creating are easy to execute and meeting our consumer demands. Somedays, it’s meeting with our franchisees to understand if this is something their crews can execute in the store, and meet their needs to deliver a consistent, great tasting product day in and day out.” 

Back to those fun flavors, such as the new mint brownie donut, or the chipotle brown sugar bacon sandwich, or the Baskin flavor of the month. How do they even come about?

“It all starts with the consumer. We do innovation that’s targeted to our core consumer, but also innovation that looks at growing our consumer base,” she explains. “It’s a balancing act, and once we have that insight, then my chefs and marketing insights team translate that into a meaningful concept and product that we’ll bring to life through culinary.”

Latimer hopes to continue to deliver great menu items for both Dunkin’ Donuts and Baskin-Robbins. To be successful, it takes a lot of insight, knowledge of trends, and some forward-thinking.

“We leverage a limited time offering strategy many times to explore and test out new ideas. We also target seasonality, what’s the next new fall flavor, for example? That’s a lot of fun,” says Latimer, who is working toward a Ph.D. in food science. “We’re building our pipeline of ideas out three years, so there’s a lot of thought, a lot of insight, that go into our menu innovation and development. It’s also staying current with culinary trends, as well.”

What’s that next must-try flavor to debut? Of course, Latimer can’t say, but she does recommend the lattes and the chocolate glazed donut at Dunkin’, and the pralines and cream at Baskin-Robbins — her favorites.

By Kristen Cuppek