McDonald’s Moves Toward Antibiotic-Free Chicken: Too Little, Too Late?

March 10, 2015

Nancy Gagliardi
2015 Forbes.com LLC™ All Rights Reserved

http://www.forbes.com/sites/nancygagliardi/2015/03/04/mcdonalds-latest-move-toward-antibiotic-free-too-little-too-late/

Taking a cue from rival Chick-fil-A, McDonald’s announced Wednesday morning that it intends to stop buying chickens that have been treated with antibiotics that are also taken by humans, seeking to address consumers’ concerns about resistant “super-bugs” resulting from overuse of the drugs. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, every year super-bugs cause some 2 million illnesses and 23,000 deaths in the U.S., resulting in an estimated $20 billion in direct health care costs. McDonald’s also announced that its U.S. locations would sell milk products only from cows that are free of artificial growth hormones (specifically rbST), but added that it would continue to allow suppliers to “responsibly use” certain antibiotics (called ionophores) which are not used in humans.

The world’s largest fast food chain will spend the next two years working to phase in its news standards with its suppliers, including Tyson Foods which, according to reports, said it would comply with the company’s requests, adding that its chicken production had reduced it use of antibiotics by 84% since 2011. A company spokesperson also commented that it would phase out using antibiotics as early as in the hatchery phase of production (when chicks are injected while still in their shells).

While he may only (officially) be four days into his new role, CEO Steve Easterbrook (who recently said he viewed himself as the company’s “internal activist,” perhaps hoping to ward off the latest wave of activist investors targeting companies that haven’t performed as well as expected) gets to mark this antibiotic-free move under his watch.

But is this really a signal that it won’t be business as usual for the beleaguered fast food giant or is it too little too late?

“I don’t think it is. It’s what needs to happen to McDonald’s right now,” says Darren Tristano, a restaurant industry analyst at Technomic. “In our industry you can catch up very quickly, but if you don’t, doing nothing isn’t an answer or a solution. This clearly is a sign that McDonald’s is willing to improve.”

While the antibiotic ban is making big news here, McDonald’s is already sourcing drug-free chicken overseas. “There are a number of countries where it doesn’t have antibiotics or hormones in its chicken,” says Tristano, including the U.K., where Easterbrook comes from. “But this is a step for them to come back to the leadership position they used to have in this industry.”

While this most likely is the first of many steps by McDonald’s to reverse its recent slide (in interviews, Easterbrook has said it needs to become nimble to accommodate market needs), a comeback will take time. Says Tristano:

First, you have to qualify coming back. I think for McDonald’s that’s getting back to a level of growth that’s nominally keeping up with inflation. I’d expect to see it back to 2.5% to 3%, which puts it into a position where it isn’t losing share, and anything above that would put it in a position where it’s taking share. Look, it was the leader during the recession, driving a lot of the industry growth. While I wouldn’t expect that to reoccur, I think getting back to zero and building, and no longer losing share is important, and we may be looking at 2016 for that to happen. But if it can get back to even, that certainly helps the company grow again.


Uno Chain Putting Pizza First Again

March 2, 2015

tlumacki_pizzeriauno_business375-001Pizza First ; Uno, once deemed the healthiest chain restaurant in America, ditches its nutritionist and goes back to its high-calorie roots to stand out from its rivals

By Taryn Luna Globe Correspondent
http://www.bostonglobe.com/business/2015/02/27/uno-chain-putting-pizza-first-again/Idbh31HEj5KahzIpPxZk7I/story.html
© 2015 The Boston Globe. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All Rights Reserved.

Uno Pizzeria and Grill, the deep-dish pizza restaurant chain that switched years ago to a menu emphasizing pages of healthy food, is returning to its cheesy roots. Calorie counters beware.

In 2008, the West Roxbury company had happily embraced a new title, bestowed by Health magazine: healthiest restaurant chain in America.

Now Uno’s traditional fare — including its 2,300-calorie Chicago Classic individual pizza — is back near the front of the menu.

Said Dee Hadley, chief marketing officer at Uno:

“If you came into our restaurant and tried to find pizza on our menu, you would have had a hard time because we hid it in the back. It’s about going back to what made the brand great to begin with.”

Hadley and a new team of executives have spent more than $10 million to remodel dozens of restaurants and start a rebranding campaign. The goal is to emphasize Uno’s pizza heritage, a way to stand out in a waning casual dining business teeming with big competitors like Applebee’s, Chili’s, Ruby Tuesday, TGI Friday’s, and Red Robin.

Uno was founded in Chicago in 1943, serving thick-crust pizza that curved up the sides of its deep metal pan. The pizza was so unusual that the original owners, Ike Sewell and Ric Riccardo, gave away samples to entice people to try it, Chicago historian Tim Samuelson said.

It paid off, and the restaurant became wildly popular.

In 1979, a Boston restaurateur, Aaron Spencer, became the first franchisee and opened an Uno on Boylston Street. Spencer continued to expand the chain in Boston and beyond. Over time, Uno grew to more than 200 restaurants.

But the company began to distance itself from its pizza roots in the early 2000s. Like many other casual restaurant chains, it expanded the menu to appeal to as many customers as possible, said Darren Tristano, an executive vice president at the food industry research firm Technomic in Chicago.

In an increasingly health-conscious time, people weren’t flocking to Uno for pizza that often topped 1,700 calories for an individual serving. Every restaurant, from McDonald’s to Applebee’s, looked for ways to cut calories.

Around 2005, Uno began a campaign to cultivate a healthier image. The brand, which had already changed its name to Uno Chicago Grill from Pizzeria Uno, eliminated trans fats from the menu and listed ingredients and calories on touch-screen kiosks. The new menu featured pages of salads.

Uno hired a full-time nutritionist and started a nutrition advisory board, which included a cardiologist from Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

“Creating a menu with delicious health-conscious options is one of our priorities,” Frank W. Guidara, then Uno’s chief executive, said a few years into the process. In an April 2006 Boston Globe article, Guidara said sales were up almost 2 percent because of the changes.

But the menu changes turned Uno into another Applebee’s, with a broad range of dishes and no emphasis on anything, Tristano said. At one point, the menu stretched to 22 pages. The restaurant’s deep dish pizzas appeared on page 18.

“They really changed the menu and mimicked what other casual restaurants were doing,” Tristano said. “Today we’ve learned that menus are too big, and casual dining brands are too ubiquitous.”

Uno discovered that the hard way. The company faced heavy debt and declining sales during the recession, when people ate out less frequently. Uno suffered net losses of $22 million in 2009 and filed for bankruptcy protection the following year.

Now, a new team of executives is trying to move forward with more than a nod to the past. The main objective: Give customers what they want.

Hadley said that when she joined in May 2013, the company went back through consumer studies for the prior five years to understand what people liked about Uno. Not surprisingly, the answer was deep dish pizza.

“We’ve really made a commitment to send a message to our consumer base that we’re bringing back the soul of the brand that we’ve lost,” Hadley said.

The first step was to rename the restaurant Uno Pizzeria and Grill, followed by a redesign of the restaurants. About 40 of the chain’s 82 corporate-owned restaurants have been remodeled, starting last year, at a cost of $100,000 to $200,000 per eatery, Hadley said.

At an updated restaurant in Braintree, the yellow and white checkered tablecloths and Tiffany pendants that dangled from the ceiling have been replaced with wood tables and modern light fixtures. Construction crews removed a wall in the bar and took down glass partitions in the dining room for a more open-concept feel. The restaurant added a new bar top and high tables, doubling the size of the bar.

Daily specials are written on chalkboards, and simple art adorns the walls with phrases like “We owe it all to a man and his pan.”

Uno says the remodeling is starting to pay off. Updated restaurants have experienced a 10 percent sales growth, she said.

The timing isn’t ideal for a return to high-calorie pizza fare, however. The federal government will require chains to list calorie counts on their menus by the end of this year.

Some diners won’t care. But others may choose smaller portions or different dishes when they realize the high calorie count of a favorite item.

“The calories on the menu will be really an eye-opener to the consumer,” said Joan Salge Black, a professor in the nutrition program at Boston University.

While gluten-free and low-fat items haven’t disappeared from the Uno menu, the nutrition advisory board isn’t active, and Uno no longer employs a nutritionist.

“We want to make sure healthy choices are available, but if you’re looking for those things you’re not thinking about us,” Hadley said. “Strong brands have to stand for something that is different from the rest of the pack. Our heritage is deep dish pizza.”


Shake Shack, Born in a Park, Goes Public With Big Dreams

February 6, 2015

SHAKE-tmagArticleBy Michael J. de la Merced and Kim Severson

The New York Times

Copyright 2015 The New York Times Company. All Rights Reserved.

http://dealbook.nytimes.com/2015/01/29/shake-shack-born-in-a-park-goes-public-with-big-dreams/?_r=0

Nearly 14 years ago, on something of a lark, the restaurateur Danny Meyer opened a Chicago-style hot dog cart in Manhattan’s Madison Square Park, hoping to draw crowds to the park and give summer jobs to the staff at one of his nearby high-end restaurants.

That stand has morphed into Shake Shack, a burger-and-crinkle-fries empire with outposts in London, Dubai, Istanbul and Las Vegas. On Friday, it will begin trading on the New York Stock Exchange with a valuation of about $745 million, and will increase Mr. Meyer’s net worth by about $155 million.

Conceived as a homage to the friendly Midwestern fast-food joints of Mr. Meyer’s childhood, Shake Shack has become one of the most prominent purveyors of fast-casual food. That sector, dominated by the likes of Chipotle, has fundamentally reshaped the fast-food industry with its emphasis on using fresh ingredients. In short, Americans seem willing to pay more for fast food made better, so long as they are still served quickly.

The success of Mr. Meyer’s chain stands in stark contrast to McDonald’s, the global behemoth suffering from its worst slump in more than a decade. The golden-arched restaurant chain announced a change in leadership this week facing sagging sales and a flat stock price, as it struggles to adjust its well-worn menu for modern tastes.

Mr. Meyer, 56, and his team have had no such trouble. Shake Shack has resonated with consumers who grew up on fast food but are both wary and weary of it. Burgers have been enjoying a makeover that began in the late 1990s, as younger eaters have flocked to a new generation of burger chains like Shake Shack, Five Guys and Smashburger.

Mr. Meyer’s chain is part of a new crop of fast-casual restaurants that promote the authenticity of ingredients. Many have since gone public, stirring up investors’ appetites: Shares in Zoës Kitchen have doubled from the chain’s public debut, while those in El Pollo Loco are up 76 percent. The shares of another chain, Habit Restaurants, have risen more than 80 percent since their November debut.

Yet the fast-casual dining sector has become crowded, with a host of new entrants in an already competitive restaurant business. Shake Shack has tripled its store count in just two years, with 63 branches, and now Mr. Meyer and his team must prove they can manage their chain’s explosive growth and weather the public’s fickle tastes.

Shake Shack is rooted in Mr. Meyer’s own culinary experiences. Its origins lie in St. Louis, where he grew up on straightforward food served with Midwestern friendliness at restaurants like the German restaurant Schneithorst’s and Steak ‘n Shake, itself now a 500-restaurant chain.

He also came to love the frozen custard at Ted Drewes, which began selling Christmas trees and frozen custard in the 1930s. That restaurant introduced the concrete, a shake as thick as ice cream with a raft of mix-ins, in 1959; it is now a signature item at Shake Shack.

So integral is the frozen treat to the company’s identity that Mr. Meyer nearly named the hot dog cart ”Custard’s First Stand.” He acknowledges in the stock sale’s prospectus that the name was ”pretty bad.”

But Shake Shack also draws on the lessons Mr. Meyer has learned in his three decades as one of New York’s most successful restaurateurs. His career began in 1985 when, at age 27, he opened the Union Square Cafe as a kind of antithesis to New York restaurants of the time that cultivated exclusivity and excess. The restaurant’s mix of warm service, dishes made with produce bought at the nearby Greenmarket and top-notch food served more casually was groundbreaking.

Since then, hospitality has been the calling card for his empire, which has expanded to what are now fixtures of the New York dining scene: Gramercy Tavern, Blue Smoke and Maialino among them. (Those restaurants are part of a separate company, the Union Square Hospitality Group, that will remain privately held.) The restaurateur has even written a best-selling book, ”Setting the Table,” a primer on customer service.

Even in its prospectus, Shake Shack refers to its customers as ”guests.”

”The thing I learned growing up in St. Louis,” he told St. Louis magazine in 2007, ”was the power of hospitality. The enormously warm feelings of loyalty that come from feeling welcome and being recognized and having the sense that the restaurant is happy to see you.”

That combination of quality ingredients and warm service has proved profitable, though the company is still a relative minnow. Shake Shack reported $5.4 million in net income in 2013 on $82.5 million in sales. Chipotle, by contrast, reported about $327 million in net income on $3.2 billion in sales in the same year.

Still, its success has helped bolster the fortunes of Shake Shack’s owners and close partners. Beyond Mr. Meyer, the top shareholder is Leonard Green & Partners, a Los Angeles private equity firm that invested in the company in 2012. The firm’s partner now on Shake Shack’s board, Jonathan D. Sokoloff, was introduced to Mr. Meyer through top executives at Whole Foods, in which Leonard Green once held a stake. They initially met over dinner at Gramercy Tavern.

Responsible for helping propel the growth of Shake Shack, Leonard Green’s holding in the company is now valued at roughly $193 million.

Shake Shack has even helped transform Pat LaFrieda, which manufactures the company’s secret burger blend, from a local artisanal butcher into a nationally lauded purveyor of quality beef.

But Shake Shack’s ambitious expansion plans — the chain plans to open at least 10 company-owned restaurants in the United States each fiscal year — may threaten the high level of hospitality the company is known for.

Mr. Meyer’s original network of restaurants was opened within a tight radius within New York City, so that the restaurateur could walk between them and ensure that each was up to par. That hasn’t been possible with Shake Shack for some time, and its increasingly far-flung locations risk eroding that quality of service.

Already, its Manhattan-based locations are more profitable than its other branches, reporting 31 percent operating profit margins compared with 21 percent for non-Manhattan restaurants.

Another potential problem is that the so-called ”better burger” slice of the fast-casual market is getting crowded, according to Darren Tristano, an analyst at the research firm Technomic. While the market may grow from $3 billion to $5 billion, he argued, it won’t grow much more — and consumers may slowly lose their hunger for burgers.

”I wouldn’t necessarily call them unique or the best, but they are a very well-positioned burger concept with good service,” Mr. Tristano said. ”They’re not that much different from regional players.”

But Shake Shack is wagering that hungry customers will beg to differ.

”When Shake Shack opened up a block from my house,” the chef Anthony Bourdain said in 2011, ”I dropped to my knees and wept with gratitude.”

This is a more complete version of the story than the one that appeared in print.


Pizza Hut Risks Becoming ‘Pizza What?’ with Bold Rebranding Effort

December 31, 2014

© 2014 Central Penn Business Journal. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All Rights Reserved.

Go big, or go home.

It’s a catchy phrase. It glorifies the daring move, making a splash, going all in for the win. It even concedes that it might not work. And it’s a risky strategy for an established brand like Pizza Hut.

Here’s a quick summary: Pizza Hut same-store sales have declined for two years. Its parent company, Yum Brands, has seen growth for its Taco Bell and KFC units, but Pizza Hut hasn’t kept up. Archenemy Domino’s seems to be eating Pizza Hut’s lunch with decent sales increases, even though it does not have a sit-down casual dining option.

So, Pizza Hut has launched a rebranding effort that consists of a new logo (more on that later), a completely revamped menu, with a much wider range of toppings and crust flavoring options, and a tongue-in-cheek ad campaign called the “Flavor of Now,” in which its new pizza combos are tested by Old World Italians and flatly rejected as “not pizza.”

Pizza Hut seems to be counting on millennials to bite on the classic reverse psychology presented in the spots as a joke.

“This is the biggest change we’ve ever made,” Carrie Walsh, chief marketing officer of Pizza Hut, said in an interview with USA Today. “We’re redefining the category.”

But, in changing so much about the brand in one fell swoop, is it trying to do too much? After all, this isn’t just adding stuffed crust as an option. This also takes away a great deal of what makes the brand familiar to its core audience.

Darren Tristano, executive vice president at Technomic, the restaurant industry research firm, responded in the same USA Today story in this way: “Pizza Hut may be doing too much too quickly. It would appear that the brand that has lost touch with the consumer is trying to change too much overnight.”

All told, Pizza Hut will add 11 new pizza recipes, 10 new crust flavors, six new sauces, five new toppings, four new flavor-pack drizzles, that new logo, new uniforms, a new pizza box and a partridge in a pear tree.

That Pizza Hut is going big, there is no doubt. But there are risks, starting with its core customers. This isn’t New Coke, but will its loyal customer base be thrown by so much change?

While I’m not sure Old World Italians would think that Pizza Hut’s previous offerings were any more worthy of their blessing, it is a product that’s been more or less established for decades. So, there is some risk that the new menu, which replaces some items, will alienate a percentage of its customers and drive them to try other options.

Let’s say that number is 5 percent of sales. That’s a big chunk to overcome with sales from new customers just to break even on this venture.

The second risk is that, with so much change, will it be possible to tell what’s working and what’s not? The chain has more than doubled its available ingredients at all of its 6,300 locations. Will it be possible to tell which combinations are working well when there will be so many possibilities? Maybe not.

But maybe it won’t matter. If the pizza-makers at the country’s leading pizza chain can manage all the extra ingredients and make what will be essentially custom pizzas for anyone who wants one, Pizza Hut could be on to something. Personalized menu items are working for Chipotle and Panera, so why not take a shot at riding the wave? It can always moonwalk its menu back to where it came from if it doesn’t move the needle. It’s got Pizza Hut Classics in its back pocket just in case, right?

Now, about the new logo. It’s great to signal a rebranding effort with an updated logo. People take notice. It makes them curious. And this one uses a mark that resembles a pizza, or, more accurately, the sauce of a pizza, which puts the product front and center.

The part that gets me is that the roofline “hut” image from the old logo has been dropped in the middle of the sauce. Now it looks like a hat, not a roof. Unless it’s supposed to be one of the new toppings, it just looks like pieces of the logo have been redistributed.

Pizza Hat, anyone? Or Pizza What? In a few months, we’ll know whether this little pizza rebrand went to market or if it went all the way home.

But there are risks, starting with its core customers.


Carl’s Jr. Revolutionizes Fast Food with New All-Natural Burger

December 15, 2014

(c) 2014 Business Wire. All Rights Reserved.temp_image_445085_3

New All-Natural Burger features the first all-natural, no added hormones, no antibiotics, no steroids, grass-fed, free-range beef patty from a major fast food company

Today, Carl’s Jr.(R) announced the All-Natural Burger, featuring an all-natural, grass-fed, free-range beef patty that has no added hormones, antibiotics or steroids. With the introduction of the All-Natural Burger, Carl’s Jr. is the first major fast-food chain to offer an all-natural beef patty on the menu. The All-Natural Burger will be available in participating Carl’s Jr. locations beginning Wednesday, Dec. 17 and features the charbroiled, all-natural beef patty topped with a slice of natural cheddar cheese, vine-ripened tomatoes, red onion, lettuce, bread-and-butter pickles, ketchup, mustard and mayonnaise, all served on the brand’s signature Fresh Baked Buns.

The Carl’s Jr. All-Natural Burger features an all-natural, grass-fed, free-range beef patty that has no added hormones, antibiotics or steroids. With the introduction of the All-Natural Burger, Carl’s Jr. is the first major fast-food chain to offer an all-natural beef patty on the menu.

“We’ve seen a growing demand for ‘cleaner,’ more natural food, particularly among Millennials, and we’re proud to be the first major fast food chain to offer an all-natural beef patty burger on our menu,” said Brad Haley, chief marketing officer of Carl’s Jr. “Millennials include our target of ‘Young Hungry Guys’ and they are much more concerned about what goes into their bodies than previous generations. The new All-Natural Burger was developed specifically with them in mind. It features grass-fed, free-range beef that’s raised with no antibiotics, no steroids and no added hormones. The charbroiled All-Natural Burger also has a slice of natural cheddar cheese, vine-ripened tomatoes, lettuce, red onion, bread-and-butter pickles, the classic trio of condiments – ketchup, mustard and mayo – and it’s all served on one of our Fresh Baked Buns that we bake fresh inside our restaurants every day. Whether you’re into more natural foods or not, it’s simply a damn good burger.”

“Greater awareness for health and wellness is driving the growth in healthful menu items, yet our research indicates that the majority of consumers still opt for more indulgent food,” said Darren Tristano, EVP of Technomic Inc. “The push and pull between healthfulness and indulgence makes an All-Natural Burger on-trend. All-natural products also have a ‘health halo’ impact and often help consumers feel confident that they are getting a product better for them and from a source they can feel good about.”

The new All-Natural Burger is available as a single all-natural beef burger for $4.69, as a double burger for $6.99, and may be ordered in a combo meal with fries and a drink. Guests may also substitute the all-natural patty on any burger on the menu for an additional charge. Prices may vary by location. For a limited time, visit carlsjr.com/coupons to download a coupon for $1 off any All-Natural Burger combo meal, valid at participating locations.

The new burger will be supported by an advertising campaign created by Los Angeles- and Amsterdam-based creative agency, 72andSunny. The first of two TV spots will begin airing on Dec. 29 with an additional commercial to debut Feb. 2015 during the super big football game many will be watching.


A Big Production

December 12, 2014

Legacy chains employ large-scale marketing stunts to generate long-term buzz.tim-hortons_2

This summer, Canadian coffee chain Tim Hortons made quite the splash: The brand covered one of its Québec locations in blackout materials to promote its new dark roast coffee. Equipped with night-vision goggles, employees handed guests samples of the brew, and the action was all captured in two-minute videos, later posted on YouTube to the tune of 2.6 million–plus views.

Tim Hortons’ head marketer, Peter Nowlan, found the experience a big success for the chain. “The dark roast is Tim Hortons’ first new blend in the company’s 50-year history, and we wanted to put it to the ultimate test: allowing guests to try it in the dark, limiting their sense of sight, and enhancing their senses of taste and smell,” he says.

Large-scale marketing stunts like these are few and far between, but when a quick-service brand does employ them, consumers take note.

“Many brands, especially older legacy brands, have to work harder to stay relevant to a younger generation of less loyal customers constantly looking for what’s cool and what’s next,” says Darren Tristano, executive vice president at Technomic. Whatever the expense to companies may be, the resulting public-relations blitz usually pays dividends, he adds.

Advertisers today are focusing heavily on social media and buzz marketing, so anything a brand does locally on a grand scale will likely be shared and tweeted to people far and wide, Tristano says. “This reminds consumers about brands and their role within the restaurant industry,” he says.


Should Domino’s and Papa John’s Fear Pizza Hut’s Big Menu Changes?

November 21, 2014

Until now the differences between Yum! Brands (NYSE: YUM) Pizza Hut, Domino’s (NYSE: DPZ), and Papa John’s (NASDAQ: PZZA) have been mostly a matter of personal preference. Aside from the occasional special offer or novelty pie, all three chains offer a basic take on pizza.

That has changed as Pizza Hut, the lagging member of this trio of mediocre national pizza purveyors, has radically overhauled its menu. The company, which in recent years has resorted to stuffing cheese into its crusts, has added a wealth of new choices built on the idea that customers want customization. It’s pizza on the Chipotle model with choices including 10 different crust flavors, six sauces, and a variety of new toppings.

Favorites like the Meat Lover’s Pizza will remain, but customers will now be able to order it with a variety of enhancements. So, for people who want their pepperoni and sausage with honey Sriracha sauce and “Ginger Boom Boom” or “Curried Away” crust, Pizza Hut will have it for them.

Why is Pizza Hut doing this?
Pizza Hut has reported sales declines for each of the last eight quarters and this new menu is an attempt to turn things around. “This is the biggest change we’ve ever made,” Chief Marketing Officer Carrie Walsh told USA TODAY. “We’re redefining the category.”

Pizza Hut needed to do something; as it has struggled, Domino’s and Papa John’s have been chugging along nicely. In the third quarter Domino’s posted 7.7% domestic same-store sales growth year over year and growth of 7.1% internationally, marking the 83rd consecutive quarter of international same-store sales growth. In its third quarter, Papa John’s posted a 7.4% gain in its North American stores while gaining 5.5% internationally.

Will it work?
One industry analyst told USA Today the chain might be trying to do too much too fast. “It would appear that the brand that has lost touch with the consumer is trying to change too much overnight,” Darren Tristano, executive vice president at Technomic, was quoted as saying.

Pizza Hut might be aiming to please customers with a shift to Chipotle-like customization, but it’s going to be a challenge for a Yum! Brands property to gain a similar reputation. Chipotle has succeeded not just because it offers customization, but because it has a well-known commitment to quality food. Neither Pizza Hut nor sister chains Taco Bell and KFC have reputations based on offering good food. Pizza Hut may find that simply adding trendy flavors like Sriracha may not be enough to win quality-conscious millennials.

On the plus side, the chain will be adding new toppings including banana peppers, cherry peppers, and spinach. On the negative, filed under “please don’t insult our intelligence,” the pizza purveyor will be renaming a number of its standard toppings, ostensibly to make them more appealing. The customer who cares where Chipotle sources its beef from may not be fooled by Pizza Hut renaming black olives as “Mediterranean black olives” or red onions being dubbed “fresh red onions,” even though nothing has changed.

Can Pizza Hut be reinvented?
While Domino’s rebuilt its brand by revamping its pizza a few years ago, the company just improved its recipe, it did not radically change its menu. What Pizza Hut is doing amounts to a massive change in direction, an attempt to differentiate itself from its two major competitors.

Pizza Hut’s moves might even send some of its customers running for its rivals. Though the chain will still be selling “normal” pizzas, it runs the risk of confusing people who just want a plain old pepperoni pie and do not want to have to wade through a wealth of options. Those customers may well switch to Domino’s or Papa Johns.

The potential gain however is not in stealing traditional, undiscerning pizza eaters from its rivals, it’s a bigger growth strategy of winning over fast-casual diners not necessarily looking for pizza. Domino’s and Papa John’s have largely penned themselves in to a specific audience — people who want familiar pizzas cheaply.
Pizza Hut is looking to break the mold and widen its potential customer base — a move that could push it ahead of its rivals. That is a huge risk because the company could scare away its existing customers while failing to win new ones. For this to work the brand has to win customers not just from its pizza rivals, but from fast-casual restaurants including Chipotle, which have a higher perceived quality.

To do that, Pizza Hut needs to up its game. It’s one thing to offer more choice, but a lousy salted caramel organic beet pizza with an artisanal cheese crust won’t be successful just because it has a lot of trendy words attached to it.

To make this new offering, which rolls out Nov. 19, work, the company is going to need to actually deliver quality pizza that people want to come back for. Fancily named olives and balsamic drizzles won’t be able to disguise a mediocre pie.


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