By Karen Axelton

photo donutsRecently we blogged on this site about how cupcake-only stores are still a hot business to start. Now comes this prediction that doughnuts may be the new cupcake.

The Lowell (Massachusetts) Sun has picked up on this burgeoning trend. According to the site, flavors like pomegranate thyme, bing cherry balsamic and lemon chamomile creme custard have been spotted around the country, as bakeries start to play around with unusual flavor combinations.

Glazed Donuts Chicago offers iced mint mojito doughnuts, as well as peanut butter and jelly doughnuts.

The article cites pastry chef Sarah Levy, author of Sweetness: Delicious Baked Treats for Every Occasion, who notes, “[The doughnut is] kind of a cool blank slate that you can doctor up and make festive with different ingredients. It’s at item where you can put a unique twist to it.”

Will doughnuts know the same success as designer cupcakes? As a trend-watcher, I know this isn’t the first time that doughnuts have flirted with trendiness. (I remember writing about a customize-your-own doughnut shop a few years back that, unfortunately, never really took off.) Unlike their cupcake cousins, doughnuts have to contend with some snobbishness from potential customers who may look down on them as fat-laden, blue-collar fare.

A few factors, though, give me hope that doughnuts just might break through this time around. First, I think we can pretty much agree that this is the year of bacon—with everything from baconnaise to bacon salt to chocolate bacon selling like hotcakes, and dozens of bacon blogs springing up. If something as unhealthy as bacon can be elevated to gourmet status, doughnuts just may stand a chance.

Second, the ongoing success of gourmet ice creams with unusual flavors and ingredients shows there’s plenty of market for a sweet treat that consumers can customize to their own tastes.

And third, with the economy still in the doldrums, what better time for a blue-collar favorite to earn mass recognition? If you own a breakfast eatery, bakery or are considering starting a business, I suggest you give serious thought to giving doughnuts a place in your business model.