This annual list of the best baked goods franchises was revised and updated on February 3, 2021.
Baked goods cover a huge range of products, including cookies, cupcakes, donuts, pastries, muffins, biscuits, pretzels, bagels, and on and on. Any time you think you’ve pinned down a comprehensive list of baked goods, someone will find a new and tasty way to prove you wrong.
While bread remains the steady core product of the industry, others are more attention grabbing, and have even broken away to create their own specialist niches. A wide range of businesses have sprung up specializing in these goods, creating a diverse industry that sometimes seems hard to define. What they all have in common is that they’re serving flour-based foods baked in an on-site oven and sold directly to the public.
In all their variety, baked goods and the bakery cafés that sell them are hugely popular around the world, including in the US. As our busy lives have made breakfast on the go more common, they’ve been there to provide a fast, easy option that lets you get straight to work. They’re also a great way to get an easy, inexpensive lunch, or to treat yourself to something sweet and delicious – 30% of US consumers use baked goods as a way to treat themselves.
This has led to good times for baked goods franchises. A survey in early 2020 found that 89% of US consumers had bought a bread or bakery item in the previous three months. The bakery cafés industry outpaced others in the food service sector during the five years to 2019. Growing disposable income let more people enjoy baked goods on the go. The growth of coffee sales helped, as customers often bought a pastry or cake to go with their coffee. Even including a decline in sales due to COVID-19 in 2020, the industry has grown an average of 1.9% per year from 2015 to 2020, and is now worth $11 billion in the US, where it employs 190,000 people in over 11,000 businesses.
Baked goods have traditionally been provided by small, local bakeries, but these are increasingly being replaced by franchises, with their highly recognizable brands and cost efficiencies.
Like most parts of the economy, the bakery café industry has been negatively affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Fewer people were eating away from home, reducing the industry’s core customer base, while reduced disposable income meant that people had less to spend on baked goods. As a result, the industry’s revenues fell by an estimated 1.3% in 2020.
Fast changing circumstances, including forced closures and suddenly plummeting footfall, meant that food and beverages went to waste, as operators couldn’t adjust their inventory in-time fast enough. Fixed costs such as rent continued to eat into businesses’ finances.
That said, the decline for bakery cafés was smaller than for most of the food service industry. Because of its low price points, customers have been less likely to cut back on baked goods than on other food services, like full-service restaurants. A focus on take-out has meant that bakery cafés have been able to stay open more often and more effectively than some other food businesses. Adjustments such as controlling the flow of customers into stores and improving hygiene standards mean that bakery cafés have been able to stay open and draw back customers who were initially nervous about shopping during the pandemic.
As normality returns, there are a variety of ways to draw customer attention or even carve out a specialist niche in this industry. Eight out of ten consumers are health conscious and looking for food that reflects this, so bakeries can do well out of providing healthier options with reduced sugar or fat. Soups and salads provide a way to meet this goal and increase choice for anyone coming into a store. Growing numbers of consumers are also concerned with the sustainability of their food, looking for options that are sourced in an environmentally and socially responsible way. Demonstrating an ethical supply chain can be valuable.
But there’s also potential to go in a more indulgent direction. Over half of consumers have eaten dessert in the past day, as they give in to their desire for something sweet. 74% of consumers want to try new and exciting chocolate cakes and pastries, showing the power of novelty in this business. And of course the convenience of baked goods plays a major part, so providing fast, simple service will help in attracting and keeping this industry’s core customers.
The bakery café industry is expected to keep growing over the next five years. Demand remains high and the post-COVID recovery should be followed by continued strong growth, as seen in the years before the pandemic. Major chains are keen to expand aggressively, tapping into unmet demand and competing with independent bakeries. This will create great opportunities for franchising.
The Top Baked Goods Franchises of 2021
1. Auntie Anne’s
Auntie Anne’s is always testing out new creations to tempt customers. Its latest items are pretzel slider melts – small sandwiches on soft pretzel buns, including the Chicken Bacon Ranch (grilled chicken breast, bacon, provolone cheese, ranch dressing) and the Chicken BBQ (grilled chicken breast, cheddar cheese, BBQ sauce).
There are eight signature pretzels, seven dips, pretzel nuggets, and four different pretzel hot dogs. There are six different build-out options for franchisees to choose from including in-line, kiosk, satellite, co-brand kiosk, food truck, and co-brand store. The chain is now owned by FOCUS Brands.
Founded by Anne Beiler in Downingtown, Pennsylvania in 1988 and franchising since 1989, the number of locations shot up from 1,126 in 2010 to 1,947 in 2018, but then dropped to the last known reported total of 1,903, of which 11 are company-owned and 694 are located outside the US.
Cinnabon recently launched a new product for consumers to take home: The Cinnabon Rolled Pancake Kit, which includes a mix to make a half-dozen large rolled pancakes with Makara cinnamon (sourced from cassia trees in Indonesia), frosting mix, hot cocoa mix, and two large white mugs with a cable sweater design. The kits are being sold through Walmart both online and in stores.
The menu features its Classic Cinnamon Roll with cream cheese frosting and the Caramel PecanBon, both of which are available in the smaller BonBite size or in “center of the roll” bowls. There are also CinnaSweeties (donut holes) and Cinnabon Stix (twisted fresh-baked Danish dough).
Like Auntie Anne’s, the Cinnabon chain is owned by FOCUS Brands. There are four build-out options for franchisees, including full bakery, co-brand store, kiosk bakery, and co-brand kiosk bakery.
Founded by Rich Komen and Ray Lindstrom in Federal Way, Washington in 1985 and franchising since 1986, the number of locations more than doubled in recent years from 763 in 2010 to the current total of 1,633 (up from the previously reported total of 1,540), of which two are company-owned and 691 are located outside the US.
3. Krispy Kreme
Krispy Kreme has upwards of 50 different signature doughnuts and doughnut holes on its menu, but it is best known for its basic but classic glazed doughnuts.
The company made headlines recently when it tried to stop an enterprising college student who was driving hundreds of miles every weekend to stock up on boxes of the chain’s doughnuts to re-sell. The story went viral and Krispy Kreme quickly changed its mind and made him an independent operator. And a local freight company gifted him with a van so he can load up with even more doughnuts.
The chain is now owned by JAB Holding Company (a private German conglomerate). Founded by Vernon Rudolph in Winston-Salem, North Carolina in 1937 and franchising since 1947, the number of locations expanded rapidly from 721 in 2012 to “nearly 1,400” in 33 countries as mentioned in 2019 press releases.
4. Einstein Bros. Bagels
Einstein Bros. Bagels bakes fresh bagels every four hours, including seven gourmet bagels, six signature bagels, 11 classic bagels, and potato rolls. Customers can choose from among nine different double-whipped Shmear (cream cheese) options. The menu also features 15 breakfast sandwiches and nine lunch sandwiches served on its bagels and potato rolls, as well as cookies, muffins, and other assorted pastries.
The company is currently testing a potential new menu item called a Bagelrito – which is basically a full-on breakfast burrito (in a flour tortilla) stuffed inside Asiago bagel dough and baked.
In 2014, the company was acquired by German conglomerate JAB Holding Company and BDT Capital Partners. Founded in Golden, Colorado in 1995 and franchising since 2006, the company website currently lists 707 locations in the US.
5. Great American Cookies
Great American Cookies bakes fresh cookies using an old family recipe handed down for generations, and while its cookies and brownies are popular, the chain has made a bigger name for itself with its cookie cakes, each of which is baked fresh on the day it’s needed and hand decorated with what the customer wants or one of the company’s 224 different designs.
The menu includes 14 signature cookies, four Double Doozies (two cookies with icing in-between), and three signature brownies. The company is flexible in fitting buildouts to fit non-traditional locations (shopping malls, college campuses, airports, military bases, stadiums/arenas, movie theaters, travel centers and convenience stores, amusement parks, and so on).
In 2010, the company was acquired by Global Franchise Group. Founded by Michael Coles and Arthur Karp in Atlanta, Georgia in 1977 and franchising since 1978, the number of locations has been growing in recent years from 305 in 2010 to the current total of 377 (down from the previously reported total of 383), of which none are company-owned and 17 are located outside the US.
6. Nothing Bundt Cakes
Nothing Bundt Cakes locations feel so much like “mom and pop” shops that most people are surprised to find out it’s a franchise – and that’s the point. This is an upscale offering sold at affordable prices great for all kinds of events and celebrations.
The cakes come in a variety of sizes, including 10-inch, 8-inch, Bundtlets (mini-cakes), and Bundtinis (bite-sized). They can also be stacked and tiered in visually impressive displays. All cakes feature the company’s signature thick cream cheese frosting petals or a drizzle frosting if desired. There are nine different flavors of cake available.
Founded by Dena Tripp and Debbie Shwetz in 1997 and franchising since 2006, the number of locations has grown steadily from 23 in 2010 to the current total of 355, of which 12 are company-owned and one is located outside the US.
7. Wetzel’s Pretzels
Wetzel’s Pretzels recently promoted the company’s chief marketing officer, Jennifer Schuler, into the CEO position, and she is all about coming up with crazy new pretzel topping combinations worthy of social media sharing. New ideas are assembled in the company’s testing lab, the Twisted Kitchen, which has already resulted in an increase in the company’s Instagram followers by more than 100% (from 8,000 to 18,000). Unfortunately, most of the creative ideas are too complicated to work at scale.
Founded by Rick Wetzel and Bill Phelps in Redondo Beach, California in 1994 and franchising since 1996, the number of locations has grown in recent years from 273 in 2010 to the current total of 331 (down from the previously reported total of 345), of which 21 are company-owned and 17 are located outside the US.
8. Shipley Do-Nuts
Shipley Do-Nuts is a fresh-baked, served-warm donut chain that also offers the hearty Czechoslovakian filled pastries called kolaches. There are currently 45 different donuts on the menu and four different kolaches.
When the founder first created his donut recipe more than 80 years ago, the donuts were cut by hand and sold for five cents/dozen. All the company’s products are based on its proprietary dough mix that only needs yeast and water at each location to bake the menu items.
Founded by Lawrence Shipley in Houston, Texas in 1936 and franchising since 1987, the number of locations has hovered right around the 300-mark in recent years, with the last known reported total of 302 in 2019, of which 12 were company-owned and all were located in the US.
Pretzelmaker makes its soft pretzels from scratch, rolls them every day in its stores, then bakes them up and serves them warm from the oven. The menu includes nine signature pretzel flavors, a pepperoni pretzel roll, eight different Pretzel Bites, three different pretzel hot dogs, eight dipping sauces, nine different blended frozen drinks, and eight different lemonades.
The company offers four different models to franchisees: traditional (malls and shopping centers), licensed locations (flexibility to fit all kinds of locations), non-traditional (kiosks in all sorts of high-traffic areas), and “Fresh Twist” with its expanded menu that includes breakfast and late-night menu options to be more competitive in non-traditional locations.
Founded by Jeffrey Tripp in 1991 and franchising since 1992, the company merged with Pretzel Time in 2010. In spite of that, the number of locations has been declining from 350 in 2010 to the current total of 249, of which none are company-owned and 81 are located outside the US.
10. Bruegger’s Bagels
Bruegger’s Bagels still holds the Guinness world record for making the largest bagel, weighing 868 pounds, which the company created at the New York State Fair in 2004 using 1,100 pounds of dough, 900 gallons of water, and 10 hours of baking time. It still goes the extra mile in making its bagels, first cooking them in kettles, then finishing them off with some quality bake-time in a stone hearth oven.
The menu includes 21 signature bagels and 14 different Vermont cream cheese options. Also available are breakfast sandwiches, lunch sandwiches, several soups, and a few desserts.
Founded by Nordahl Brue and Mike Dressell in Troy, New York in 1983 and franchising since 1993, the number of locations has declined in recent years, from 280 in 2008 to the current total of 200 listed on the company website.
11. Great Harvest
Great Harvest doesn’t just make its bread fresh every day, it makes the flour itself fresh every day. It really can’t get any fresher than that. The chain sources its wheat kernels from family farms, then mills them on-site for the freshest possible flour.
In addition to seven different signature breads, the chain’s stores also offer several breakfast options (biscuits, sandwiches, muffins, scones, and cinnamon rolls), a café menu with five sandwiches and two salads, and a variety of baked goodies such as cookies, bars, brownies, and teacakes.
Founded by Pete and Laura Wakeman in Great Falls, Montana in late 1976 and franchising since 1978, the number of locations has declined recently from a high of 212 in 2011 to the last known reported total of 184 in 2019, of which one was company-owned and one was located outside the US.
12. Philly Pretzel Factory
Philly Pretzel Factory has its own unique take on fresh-made hand-twisted pretzels resulting in a shape different from the usual soft pretzel – it looks like a tall number 8. As the name implies, this chain was born and “bread” in the City of Brotherly Love – Philadelphia. It should come as no surprise that one of the items on its menu is a cheesesteak pretzel.
Its bite-sized pretzels are called Rivets, and there are also pretzel dogs, a pepperoni pretzel melt, and sweet cinnamon pretzel twists. The menu is rounded out with eight different party trays with various combinations of its products.
Founded by Dan DiZio in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1998 and franchising since 2004, the number of locations rose from 112 in 2011 to 183 in 2017 but has since declined to the last known reported total of 162 in 2019, of which seven were company-owned and all were located in the US.
13. Duck Donuts
Duck Donuts sells warm, fresh, made-to-order donuts. It always features at least a dozen signature donuts, with seasonal varieties mixed in. Customers who want their donuts made-to-order begin with the basic vanilla cake donut, then choose a coating (Bare, Cinnamon Sugar, Powdered Sugar, Glazed, Icing: Chocolate, Vanilla, Strawberry, Peanut Butter, Maple, Lemon, Blueberry), a topping (Rainbow Sprinkles, Chocolate Sprinkles, Graham Cracker, Chopped Peanuts, Chopped Bacon, Shredded Coconut, Oreos), and a drizzle (Hot Fudge, Marshmallow, Salted Caramel, Raspberry).
Founded by Russ DiGilio and Robin Griffith in Duck, North Carolina in 2006 and franchising since 2013, the number of locations has quickly grown to 97, of which three are company-owned and all are located in the US.
14. Nestlé Toll House Cafe by Chip
The array of menu offerings at a café location includes fresh-baked cookies, cupcakes, macaroons, brownies, bars, chocolate-covered strawberries, ice cream, cookie cakes, crepes, wraps, paninis, flatbreads, frozen yogurt, and real fruit smoothies.
Founded in 2000 and franchising since then, the number of locations was on the rise from 99 in 2010 to a peak of 156 in 2015 but has since declined to the current total of 90, of which one is company-owned and all are located in the US.
15. Gigi’s Cupcakes
Gigi’s Cupcakes has been through a lot. The initial cupcake craze has begun to fade, the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization, and it was purchased by Los Angeles-based Elite Restaurant Group. But the new parent company is committed to not only keeping all existing franchises open, but growing the brand.
Cupcakes remain a popular choice among consumers because they’re so much easier to handle than full-sized cakes. The chains cupcakes are colorful, have lots of icing, and incorporate plenty of additional treats in the form of sprinkles and candies. They make a great addition to all kinds of events, including birthday parties, corporate events, baby showers, weddings, and holiday gatherings.
In addition to 12 signature cupcakes (including a couple gluten-free options), there are two cheesecake cup options and full 8-inch cakes.
Founded by Gina “Gigi” Butler in Nashville, Tennessee in 2007 and franchising since 2008, the number of locations was on a rapid rise from 16 in 2010 to 95 in 2016 but has since declined to the last known reported total of 86 in 2018, of which nine were company-owned and all were located in the US.
16. Big Apple Bagels/My Favorite Muffin
Big Apple Bagels/My Favorite Muffin combines not just those two brands, but also a third, which is Brewster’s Coffee. The fresh-baked bagels span the typical array of flavors, along with six different cream cheeses. There are nine different breakfast sandwiches and a dozen different deli sandwiches on the menu, and an array of cake-like muffins (jumbo or mini).
Founded by Paul Stolzer in 1993 and franchising since then, the number of locations has declined in recent years from 100 in 2010 to the last known reported total of 80 in 2018, of which none were company-owned and all were located in the US.
17. Ben’s Soft Pretzels
Ben’s Soft Pretzels doesn’t mess around with its signature product – the pretzels are Amish-inspired and they’re big. But don’t worry, they have the bite-sized option, called Buggy Bites. The jumbo pretzels can be salted with imported German salt or with a range of Bake ‘N Shake toppings, and customers have a choice of a dozen different dipping sauces.
There are also Pretzel Pockets similar to a calzone but with pretzel dough, pretzel-wrapped hot dogs, and the newest product: Prizza – pretzel dough pizzas. The chain’s locations can be placed in shopping malls, stadiums, airports, and in select Walmart and Meijer stores as well.
Founded by Ben Miller, Scott Jones, and Brian Krider in Elkhard, Indiana in 2008 and franchising since 2013, the chain grew rapidly over the last several years to 85 locations in 2018 but has since declined to the current total of 64, of which eight are company-owned and all are located in the US.
18. Le Macaron French Pastries
Le Macaron French Pastries needs people to get one thing straight from the get-go: a macaron and a macaroon are not the same thing, although some insist that they are! A macaroon is the well-known coconut cookie. A macaron is a French pastry – a meringue-based, melt-in-your-mouth confection that comes out like a very light cookie, usually put together in pairs with a filling in-between.
The chain’s menu includes 21 different signature macarons and a selection of other French pastries, including savories, eclairs, madeleines, and pains au chocolats. Also available are full-sized cakes, French gelato, waffles, candies, and fine chocolates.
Founded by Rosalie Guillem and Audrey Guillem-Saba in 2009 and franchising since 2012, the number of locations has increased rapidly since then to the current total of 60, of which eight are company-owned and all are located in the US.
19. Kolache Factory
Kolache Factory specializes in offering the Czechoslovakian filled pastry that has become increasingly popular throughout the US, in part because they offer a great way to grab breakfast on the go. The pastry itself is somewhat sweet and is then filled with anything and everything (meats, cheeses, fruits, etc.).
There are 21 different signature kolaches on the menu, along with other baked goods such as strudel niks, croissants, cinnamon rolls, muffins, cinnamon twists, and dinner rolls.
Founded by John and Jerri Banks in Houston, Texas in 1981 and franchising since 2000, there are currently 57 locations, of which 27 are company-owned and all are located in the US.
Woops! is a bakeshop concept specializing in French macarons and other artisanal pastries. It offers 18 signature flavors of macarons, as well as changing seasonal flavors. Customers can select various combinations of flavors and quantities to be boxed up, and they can be used for corporate gifting, party favors, weddings, and all sorts of other events. Other sweet treats available include cookies, waffles, and alfajores.
Founded by four friends in New York City in 2012 and franchising since 2015, the last known reported total of locations was 40 in 2018, of which seven were company-owned and all were located in the US.
Cinnaholic lets customers tailor the hot, fresh cinnamon roll by choosing from among 30 different frostings and 30 other kinds of toppings. Unlike many baked treats, this chain’s cinnamon rolls are 100% dairy-free, egg-free, cholesterol-free, and 100% vegan. It received a healthy dose of publicity from an appearance on Shark Tank back in 2014.
Founded by husband and wife team Shannon and Florian Radke in Berkeley, California in 2010 and franchising since 2014, the number of locations currently stands at 40, of which one is company-owned and five are located outside the US.
Breadsmith knows how hard it is to find good bread in the US, especially if people are limited to what’s available at their local supermarkets. This chain offers breads made the old-world way, by hand, from scratch, and without preservatives or additives. Each location features a European hearth stone oven weighing upwards of five tons.
Other baked goods available include sweet breads, coffee cakes, cookies, pastries, scones, biscotti, croissants, granola, crostatas, tarts, and much more. The company has more than 300 different recipes and gives franchisees the flexibility to pick and choose what it will offer. They can also choose to get into wholesaling to other markets in their local area.
Founded by Dan Sterling in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1993 and franchising since 1994, there are currently 34 locations, of which two are company-owned and all are located in the US.
23. Peace, Love & Little Donuts
Peace, Love & Little Donuts goes all in on its branding to peace-loving hippies for its little donuts, the size of which is attributed to putting the first donut machine together incorrectly, resulting in their small size. The chain makes little fresh cake donuts and then jazzes them up with various frostings and “funkadelic” toppings for a grand total of 60 different signature donut creations.
Founded by Ron and Marci Razete in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 2009 and franchising since 2016, the number of locations has quickly grown to 28 (no change from the previous year), of which four are company-owned and all are located in the US.
24. The Dapper Doughnut
The Dapper Doughnut makes hot, fresh, made-to-order mini-doughnuts with style. It has 15 different signature doughnuts: Apple Cider Sugar, Bananas Foster, Birthday Cake, Blueberry Lemon, Chocolate Sprinkles, Cinnamon Bun, Cinnamon Sugar, Fluffer Nutter, Loco Coco, Nutella Dream, PB & J, Powdered Sugar, S’mores, Strawberry Bella, and Turtle. The chain also serves up artisan coffee.
Founded by Mark Publicover in 2015 and franchising since 2016, the last known reported total of locations was 19, of which one was company-owned and all were located in the US.
25. Between Rounds Bakery Sandwich Café
Between Rounds Bakery Sandwich Café is primarily a fresh-baked bagel shop, but it also serves other breads and baked goods along with sandwiches, wraps, salads, and soups. In addition to in-store sales, the chain relies heavily on catering as a second stream of revenue.
While the goods are baked in-store, the doughs are prepared off-site and delivered for baking. Each location also has the flexibility to tailor its look and décor to the local community.
Founded by Jerry Puiia in Vernon, Connecticut in 1990 and franchising since 1992, there are currently four locations (one less than the previous year), of which three are company-owned and all are located in the US.
An Important Note About Our Methodology
The franchises on this list were ranked according to the number of units in the franchise system. If you are a prospective franchisee searching for franchise opportunities that meet or exceed certain performance benchmarks for sales, profits, and return on investment, please check out this list of America’s Most Lucrative Franchises.