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Amsterdam: doughnut economy, or a load of waffle?


In 2023 Amsterdam made waves as the first city to embrace the Doughnut economy model developed by British economist Kate Raworth. Time Magazine even asked if the Doughnut would replace capitalism.  The Doughnut model explains how societies and businesses can contribute to economic development while respecting the limits of the planet and society. This is essentially a circular economy model, and Amsterdam has set goals of halving the use of primary raw materials by 2030 and becoming 100% circular by 2050.




While the city charts their progress towards the Doughnut, however, there are signs that the doughnut may be being replaced by a much more local version: the Waffle Economy. The power of this new approach was underlined by a recent article in local newspapers proclaiming “13 euros for one waffle? No problem for the tourists”. Highlighting the TikTok queues already featured in an earlier edition of this blog (The Tik-Tok Queue – a new global attraction), the Dutch article explains what drives tourists to pay such exorbitant sums for a single syrup-filled biscuit (which with extra toppings can go for 15 euros a time).



A Tik-Tok queue in Amsterdam (photo Greg Richards)


Of course, one of the major draws is that the waffle is eminently Tik-Tokable. Hungry visitors who have waited an hour or more in the queue to get their hands on a waffle don’t mind waiting a few seconds more to record and post the moment for posterity. As another visitor remarked, the fact that people are on holiday also makes the experience unique, and therefore worth investing in. The uniqueness is heightened for tourists from the UK or the US by the fact that they don’t have stroopwafels there.  


The waffle-Tik-Tok antics of the tourists are a source of amusement to locals, who find it absurd to pay such astronomical sums for a single biscuit. In the shops, you can buy a whole packet for just over 1 euro.  On the market, there are stalls selling similar freshly-made versions for 3 euros (already a significant increase on a few years ago, thanks to the cost-of-living crisis).



The cut-price version on the local market (photo Greg Richards)


So apparently the Dutch have discovered the secret of getting tourists to pay more than 5 times as much for Tik-Tok version. This model has now been applied to a whole range of products, including French fries, bubble tea and toast. The owners of Chun cafe,  Melissa Cheung and Kelvin Chan, argue that social media “gives small businesses a democratic and inclusive channel for promotion.  While we don’t actively post on TikTok, we’ve been thrilled to see the spontaneous buzz generated by individuals who share their experiences,”


It's too good to be true: (almost) free marketing for a high-margin product that leaves the locals to shoulder the externalities, including litter, crowding and noise. Never mind replacing capitalism, the Doughnut economy has already been superseded by the Waffle economy……   

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