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.


Pizza Hut Revamps Menu, Brand

November 19, 2014

pictureBruce Horovitz, USA TODAY

Pizza Hut is rebooting itself for a new generation of pizza eaters.

Following two years of disappointing sales as consumers sought even more exotic flavors and personalized options, the world’s largest pizza chain on Monday will announce plans to turn upside down almost every facet of its identity.

Pizza Hut will focus on dozens of new flavor options as it mounts the 56-year-old brand’s biggest-ever redo. It will add 11 new pizza recipes, 10 new crust flavors, six new sauces, five new toppings, four new flavor-pack drizzles, a new logo, new uniforms and, yes, even a new pizza box.

For those keeping count, the chain is more than doubling its available ingredients at all 6,300 U.S. locations beginning Nov. 19.

“This is the biggest change we’ve ever made,” Carrie Walsh, chief marketing officer, says in a telephone interview. “We’re redefining the category.”

The ongoing tailspin — eight consecutive quarters of same-store sales declines — recently resulted in a management reshuffle. David Gibbs, who has been U.S president, was named CEO last week. He was not available for this story.

Even the chain’s sister brands at Yum Brands — Taco Bell and KFC — generally have been growing, but Pizza Hut seems to have hit a wall. Will these changes be enough to heal an ailing brand? Or, perhaps, are they too many, too late?

“Pizza Hut may be doing too much too quickly,” says Darren Tristano, executive vice president at Technomic, the restaurant industry research specialist. “It would appear that the brand that has lost touch with the consumer is trying to change too much overnight.” He suggests a more gradual approach because, among other things, all of these changes could particularly confuse the chain’s traditional customers.

Not so, says Walsh. Pizza Hut researched “hundreds” of ingredients, she says. “These are the ones customers told us they want.”

It’s not the first time a major pizza chain tried to quickly reinvent itself. Back in 2009, Domino’s, which had taken plenty of public grief for the taste of its pizza, changed everything in the recipe of its core pizza. New sauce. New crust. New cheese. It turned out to be a hit.

In this case, however, Pizza Hut is not changing its core recipe. Instead, it’s adding many, many more choices.

How many? Who’s counting. But consider this: There will now be about 1,000 ways to customize something as basic as a pepperoni pizza at Pizza Hut, says Walsh.

Among Pizza Hut’s new offerings, it’s going from:
• One crust choice to 10, including salted pretzel and honey sriracha.
• One sauce choice to six, including garlic Parmesan and Buffalo.
• Zero “premium” toppings to five, including sliced banana peppers and Peruvian cherry peppers.
• Zero “drizzles” to five, which are basically sauces like Buffalo and balsamic that are lightly drizzled on the top of the pizza after it’s baked.
• Six special recipes to 22, including 7-Alarm Fire (loaded with peppers and jalapeno) to Giddy-Up Barbecue Chicken (with chicken and bacon and barbecue sauce.)

It also will nationally roll-out a so-called Skinny Slice pizza line — with five offerings at about 250 calories per slice.

To announce the change, the chain will launch its largest-ever advertising campaign dubbed “The Flavor of Now,” says Walsh, though she declines to provide details. There’s even a possibility that the chain, which hasn’t advertised during a Super Bowl in 15 years, is considering such a move for the upcoming big game on Feb. 1.

“We’re looking,” says Walsh. “This change deserves a big statement.”


What Pizza Hut’s Radical New Menu Actually Tastes Like

November 18, 2014

Depends how you feel about honey sriracha crust and balsamic drizzlesPizza Hut Menu Launch Press Event in NYC
The half-dozen servers were dressed in all black, down to the sleek leather gloves they wore as they doled out slices of Pretzel Piggy, Old Fashioned Meatbrawl and Cherry Pepper Bombshell. On the side: balsamic, buffalo, BBQ and honey sriracha sauces, or in Pizza Hut’s new parlance, “drizzles.” All of it was surrounded by a new logo, new delivery boxes, new casual-looking uniforms, and a new motto: “The Flavor of Now.”

This is the new, at times unrecognizable, Pizza Hut. Or, at least, it was the one shown to members of the media Monday afternoon to mark what David Gibbs, the company’s newly installed CEO, calls “one of the biggest moves we’ve ever made in our history.”

On Nov. 19, Pizza Hut will essentially relaunch its entire brand, changing the food it serves, the way its ordered and even the company logo. There are 11 new signature pizzas, six new sauces, 10 new crust flavors and four drizzles — enough options to allow for 2 billion unique pizza combinations. For the company known for trencherman staples like Stuffed Crust, Meat Lover’s and Supreme, the new menu is the fast-food equivalent of a Hail Mary pass.

“It’s a fear of irrelevance,” says Darren Tristano, a food industry analyst at Technomic. “But the potential to negatively influence their current customer base is certainly there.”

It’s a risk Pizza Hut is willing to take, though they’re hedging bets by keeping those old favorites on the menu. Sales at the nation’s largest pizza chain have been dropping for two years, as Domino’s, Little Caesars and Papa John’s—the No. 2, 3 and 4 chains, respectively—have cut into Pizza Hut’s business. Regional build-your-own pizza chains like Blaze and Pieology and customization-heavy fast-casual brands like Chipotle are also luring diners from the pan pizza depot.

“America’s tastes are changing,” Gibbs says. “People are interested in bold new flavors. It’s a pretty natural move to be the one to take the pizza category where nobody’s taken it before with all these new flavors and ingredients.”

Domino’s offered a template in 2009, when the company admitted that its sauce and crust weren’t that great and invited customers to taste the new version. They bolstered their campaign with an updated social media presence and smoother online ordering to cater to millennials. Sales have soared since, which is as much a reason for Pizza Hut drizzling hot sauce on garlic crusts as anything.

So what does the “flavor of now” taste like? Thankfully, better than it sounds (The Cock-a-Doodle Bacon. Why?).

We started with Pizza Hut’s new asiago breadsticks alongside four dipping sauces: balsamic, BBQ, buffalo and honey sriracha. They’re miles from your basic marinara or cheese sauce, but not necessarily for the better. Whether dipping in the sweet but mild balsamic, tangy, molasses-heavy BBQ, unmemorable buffalo or lightly spicy honey sriracha, my asiago sticks longed for a red sauce.

The newfangled pizzas tended to come together better. The Cock-a-Doodle Bacon pie is spread with a creamy garlic parmesan sauce topped with grilled chicken and bacon. The riff on Alfredo is rich enough that you don’t miss the marinara.

The Old Fashioned Meatbrawl is a reasonably restrained update on the classic topping: the meatballs are small enough not to dominate each bite, and a garlic crust adds an extra salty pop.

Cherry Pepper Bombshell is also better than it sounds. The cherry peppers and balsamic drizzle add a sweet punch that goes well with meaty salami. But the shower of fresh spinach on top didn’t add much. It felt similarly unnecessary on the Pretzel Piggy, which is one of the most convoluted combinations on the new signature menu. A salted pretzel crust with the creamy garlic parmesan sauce from the Cock-a-Doodle is topped with bacon, mushrooms and spinach and then finished with a balsamic drizzle. It worked, kind of, though you’d need to be in a particular kind of mood to take one down solo.

The custom crusts are Pizza Hut’s attempt to make choosing your dough as common as picking your toppings. Of the two new ones I tried, the Ginger Boom Boom crust—with regular cheese and marinara—was subtle, a bit garlicky, with only a mildly taste of ginger. The honey sriracha crust (with a pepperoni topping), meanwhile, was sticky and a bit too overpowering.

So is this really what millennials crave? Maybe. Pizza Hut will likely cast off a kicked-up drizzle, flavor-dusted crust or meatbrawl pie if it turns out it isn’t selling. Besides, it’s not as if Pizza Hut is a sauce and dough purist.

“We’ve always been the one taking the category to new places,” says Gibbs, Pizza Hut’s CEO. “Yes, the younger customers are more interested than the older demographics in experimenting with flavor. But I think across all demographics, there’s something on the menu for everybody.”


Brisket Channel proves to be ultimate reality TV

August 27, 2014

Article by: David Phelps, Star Tribune

© 2014 Star Tribune

Remember the Brisket Channel on Duluth TV?

It was on for 13 hours and five minutes over the Memorial Day weekend.

It turned out to be quite a hit, once reruns made it to YouTube. Nearly 400,000 viewers tuned into the Internet version of the smoked brisket marathon developed for Arby’s by the Minneapolis ad agency Fallon.

So popular was the website that each unique visitor spent an average of 38 minutes on the site, watching a brisket slow cook in the same manner that Arby’s prepares brisket for its customers. It also helped that visitors had a chance to win one of $20,000 in prizes that included a 10-gallon hat, lasso and beef-scented candles.

“We were blown away by that,” said Matt Heath, Fallon creative director, of the viewership.

And the client was pleased. “Thirty-eight minutes is longer than a lot of TV shows,” said Jeff Baker, Arby’s senior brand experience director. “It was a great idea based on simplicity.”

Besides setting a Guinness record for the longest TV commercial, the brisket show and limited brisket sandwich offer set the stage for Arby’s new “we have the meats” advertising campaign that Fallon launched earlier this month.

Results for the fledging ad campaign so far are inconclusive. But Rocky Novak, Fallon’s managing director, said: “We’re seeing a lot of social media love.” Arby’s said it does not release sales figures. But when it first made the brisket sandwich limited-time-offer available in October of 2013, “we declared it the most successful [limited-time offer] in the brand’s 50-year history,’’ said a spokesman Wednesday.

Gone as Arby’s pitchman is Bo Dietl, the former New York City police detective who was the face and voice of Arby’s for nearly two years. To quote Dietl from a commercial for Arby’s fish sandwich, “Really?” Yeah, really.

In fact, the new Arby’s commercials are faceless. The only human element seen by viewers is of a person from the shoulders down wearing a chef’s jacket. A roast beef or turkey or corned beef sandwich is the star of the commercial.

“The LSR [limited service restaurant or fast food] industry is not hyper-focused on food. There are a lot of entertainment factors,” said Heath. “We wanted to see how close we could get to the food. We didn’t want to put a face in there. It’s about the finished product.”

Among the tag lines used for the new set of Arby’s commercials are “this is meatcraft,” “fear not the meats,” “meats crafted with a heavy hand” and “it will change you.”

“We feel like we have an incredible heritage of meats and that presenting them in a simple way was the best way,” Baker said in an interview earlier this week.

Brand overhaul

Arby’s new advertising campaign will be accompanied by a new branding campaign that the Atlanta-based company announced in June. The branding effort includes remodeled exteriors, revitalized interiors and staff training.

Based on some consumer testing, Arby’s message and image could use a little retooling.

According to the food industry consulting firm Technomic, sales and market share at Arby’s have declined in each of the last two years, placing the roast beef king a distant second behind Subway in the non-hamburger sandwich sector and ahead of a hard-charging Jimmy John’s.

“Arby’s is considered to be unique because its about roast beef, not hamburgers, not chicken. We’re talking about an older, nostalgic brand,” said Darren Tristano, executive vice president for Chicago-based Technomic. “Clearly there are some advertising opportunities and some innovative opportunities.”

Novak said the new Arby’s advertising campaign is all about what goes between a bun or two pieces of bread in the Arby’s kitchen.

“The main takeaway first and foremost is that this is about the meat that is put in the sandwich,” Novak said.

Tristano said Arby’s scores well with consumers on a number of metrics, including service, decor and “craveability.” But it doesn’t score so well on prices, healthy options and “advertising that makes me hungry.”

“By focusing on what differentiates you, that creates memorable and creative advertising,” Tristano said. “Freshness gives you a stronger feel of healthiness.”

And credit for a new Arby’s feel may come down to a Texas-smoked brisket that took 13 hours to cook and five minutes to carve.


In breakfast wars

August 7, 2014

Taco Bells boldmarketing pays off with big sales

Maureen Morrison

(c) 2014 Crain Communications, Inc. All rights reserved.

IS TACO BELL’S BREAKFAST giving McDonald’s a wake-up call?

The Yum chain’s launch in late March went directly after McDonald’s with marketing that aggressively framed the Golden Arches as hopelessly outdated, and trumpeted Taco Bell as the next generation of fast-food breakfast. Its cheeky TV ads used real-life Ronald McDonalds proclaiming their love for Taco Bell’s morning fare.

The first clue to whether this audacious play is paying off came during Yum’s second-quarter earnings. Yum Brands CEO David Novak said breakfast comprised around 7% of sales in the quarter and that the company expects it will add anywhere from $70,000 to $120,000 in annual sales per restaurant.

Projecting sales using those numbers, Taco Bell could stand to reap an estimated $375 million to $641.5 million in first-year sales from breakfast.

“McDonald’s does more breakfast sales in the U.S. than Taco Bell does total sales globally,” said Darren Tristano, exec VP at Technomic. Even so, “McDonald’s has to pay attention,” he said.


7-Eleven Launches New Doritos Loaded

July 18, 2014

By 10 a.m. Wednesday, the day of its launch, 7-Eleven’s brand new Doritos Loaded product had at least one Crystal Lake fan.

Karen Black-Vetter went into 7-Eleven, 1024 McHenry Ave., Crystal Lake, intending to leave with the usual snacks. But then, she saw the bold red signs advertising Doritos Loaded.

At $1.99 and 360 calories for a pack of four, Doritos Loaded are warm triangular pan-fried snacks, filled with melted cheese and encrusted with the signature nacho cheese flavor.

“We read that sign, and I said, ‘We have to try that,’” Black-Vetter said, sitting in the car with out-of-town friend Leslie Phiscator.

7-Eleven Inc. on Tuesday announced the launch of the new product, which can be found exclusively at 5,500 7-Eleven stores nationwide as of Wednesday, corporate spokeswoman Margaret Chabris said.

The snack food comes hand-in-hand with a new tropical Mountain Dew flavor called Solar Flare.

While its appeal is meant to hit all “on-the-go folks,” Chabris said Doritos Loaded is expected to be especially popular among younger Americans who prefer snacking to full meals – specifically, millennials.

“We have found that more and more people are not sitting down for three square meals a day, but they want something filling and affordable,” she said, adding the information stems from corporate studies. “It seems like, particularly, millennials snack throughout the day, so this is a perfect snack item for them.”

According to a 2012 report from the NDP Group, a market research company that tracks consumer trends, more than half of all Americans – 53 percent – snack two to three times a day.

Darren Tristano, executive vice president of food industry consulting company Technomics Inc., said annual studies done by Technomics also have found today’s America to be more snack-inclined than years prior.

“The snacking trend we’ve seen … is consumers are grazing more now, which means they’re having less to eat with greater frequency,” Tristano said. “Instead of three square meals, we’ve started to see more late-night snacking … and snacking late-morning and mid-afternoon.”

As far as snacks go, however, a dietitian at Centegra Hospital – Woodstock and McHenry said 7-Eleven’s newest product probably isn’t the best choice as it’s heavy in sodium, containing 1,070 mg.

“Anything that is providing half a day’s worth of sodium and it’s just a snack,” Susannah Baldock said, “that would be the first sign to look at something healthier.”

Those who indulge in Doritos Loaded could be swayed simply because of brand familiarity, though.

Tristano said food trends are pointing toward the use of big-name brands to increase revenue opportunities.

“One of the trends we’ve seen has been the opportunity for branded food services to take very leverageable brands like Doritos and other snacks, and build them into food service products in restaurants, and now we’re seeing it more out of the convenience stores.”

Based on previous new-product rollouts, however, Tristano said the buzz will likely quiet down in time.

“Most products that 7-Eleven introduces tend to be on a short-term basis,” he explained. “They’ll probably see how it registers with customers.”

At the Crystal Lake store, owner and franchisee Katen Patel was optimistic about the future of Doritos Loaded.

“I think it targets our target customer; I think kids are going to love it,” Patel said, sporting an official Doritos Loaded T-shirt. “If it does what Doritos does for our chips brand, I think it’ll do really, really well.”

It only took one bite each before Black-Vetter and her friend, Phiscator, were nodding in approval to one another in the car.

“Oh yeah,” Black-Vetter said. “I’ll get this again.”


Franchise Chatter Names Emerging New Food Segment The Hottest Franchise Concept of 2014

May 22, 2014

By Brian Bixler
Franchise Chatter

During the last few years, a band of start-ups has been racing to become what some have called “the Chipotle of pizza,” seizing upon the fast-casual custom concept and mimicking the company’s model in hopes that they can do for pizza what Chipotle did for the burrito. With major names in franchising recognizing the potential in the fast-casual custom pizza segment and backing some of the brands financially, potential franchisees are seeing dollar signs in what has evolved into the hottest franchise concept of 2014—one that looks to have staying power, rather than being a passing fad.

That’s the conclusion drawn in a report from Franchise Chatter, an online information resource for franchisees. Published on franchisechatter.com, the new report looks at the latest developments and growth within the fast-casual custom pizza segment, which has been drawing increasing interest among investors as new brands look toward explosive expansion, spreading the concept across the country.

“There are now dozens of brands in this segment, which could become as popular as frozen yogurt franchises were a few years ago,” said Ambrosio Cantada, founder of Franchise Chatter. “As these companies gain market share, we know potential franchisees will want to read about the future of this segment of the pizza category, and which brands may end up on top. “

Since 2008, a growing number of companies has moved into the custom pizza segment by establishing fast-casual restaurants in which customers choose their ingredients—including the dough, sauce and toppings—along a service line. With pizzas being cooked in high-temperature ovens, the concept combines speed and customization that customers are looking for today, with a variety of healthy ingredients.

So many new brands are entering the market with none of them dominating yet that potential franchisees face the dilemma of striking while the iron’s hot (or, in this case, the oven) or sitting on the sidelines to see which brand will best capture market share.

Some brands are posting impressive annual sales volumes as high as $1.8 million at individual units, according to Technomic Executive Vice President Darren Tristano, who recently completed the Fast-Casual Pizza Cluster Report for the market research firm.

Even though Technomic’s year-end 2013 figures show Pie Five Pizza Co., Uncle Maddio’s and Your Pie leading some competitors in the number of units, each with 18, the landscape is about to change.

“I think right now the two brands that are at the forefront would be PizzaRev because of the investment of Buffalo Wild Wings and Blaze Pizza, which is expanding rapidly,” Tristano says. “They both have strong management and overall knowledge of the consumer market.”

The speed with which the dueling companies bring their concepts to additional markets will be key to determining their success, he added. Tristano expects the custom pizza segment to be especially popular with the noon crowd.

“Fast-casual pizza has emerged out of a white space that’s typically lunch time,” he said, adding that brands that offer comfortable environments and alcoholic beverages will also be able to pick up dinner and nighttime customers as well.

“We expect to see a lot of opportunity for growth in the next five to eight years,” Tristano said. “It will likely attract more franchisees and other investors to come into the market as it’s still in the very early stage.”

The Franchise Chatter report includes updates on specific brands it has identified for having the greatest growth potential over the next five years.

For more information, click on the Hottest Franchise Concept of 2014 banner at franchisechatter.com.

Brian Bixler is a freelance journalist and blogger who writes for several business-oriented websites, including Franchise Chatter, a membership site devoted to reviewing franchise earnings claims. By talking to executives of leading brands as well as some of the most successful franchisees across the country, Franchise Chatter reports on growing brands as well as those that might be struggling. The website also examines the profit potential of all the major brands with its FDD Talk feature.


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