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.”