One of my good friends from the Northeast recently said something that shocked me. We were at an event and ordered what many people from his area would call “fake pizza.” To him, “fake pizza” is anything produced outside of a mom-and-pop pizzeria. In other words, it’s any pizza created by a major chain. After a few bites he said, “You know, sometimes I really enjoy this kind of pizza.”
WHOA! The same guy who routinely argues about which pizzeria uses the correct amount of cheese suddenly conceded that national chain pizza can be tasty in its own right and in the right moment. In fact, customers routinely crave this kind of pizza.
That’s what Pizza Hut discovered after the chain’s “Flavor of Now” menu was reportedly flat-lining. True, more Americans are increasingly seeking out high-end, artisan foods. But they weren’t looking for that from Pizza Hut. Pizzas with a Honey Sriracha sauce, jalapeno peppers, or an Asiago crust just weren’t driving business. When it came down to it, customers didn’t want fancy pizza from Pizza Hut—they wanted faster pizza. That’s how Pizza Hut’s new philosophy became “easy beats better.”
Greg Creed, the CEO of Pizza Hut parent company Yum Brands, has resolved to make Pizza Hut the Uber of national pizza chains. The brand’s focus has turned to ease of ordering and speed of delivery. After tying its loyalty program to its mobile app, Pizza Hut started reaping the rewards. As Pizza Monthly Quarterly reports, the company sold about $2 million more on Super Bowl Sunday in 2016 compared to the year prior. Tellingly, more than 60% of the online orders were placed through mobile Web browsers or through the Pizza Hut app.
Combined with the success of Pizza Hut’s $5 Flavor Menu, the brand is getting back on track in a highly competitive foodservice space. Although Pizza Hut recently reported flat same-store sales, the brand seems to be making the right strategic moves. Aside from faster delivery, it’s taking another page from Domino’s playbook by launching a social media chatbot. The platform will be available across Pizza Hut social media accounts this upcoming fall, and will enable customers to order through Facebook or Twitter.
In all fairness, you can argue that Pizza Hut is biting at the heels of Domino’s, which is seeing shares hit a record high after posting better-than-expected quarterly sales and profit. Domino’s has allowed customers to order a pizza by tweeting the pizza emoji for more than a year.
But as they enter new territory with technology, both chains have to keep something important in mind…
Physical Stores Needs to Keep Up
Pizza isn’t delivered by a little blue bird through your computer. It’s delivered by a nuts-and-bolts operation in a physical store, with kitchen employees and delivery drivers. If orders will increase with more technology, and if customers expect those orders to arrive sooner, will your stores and staff keep up? Do they have a solid command of the basics in recipe execution, ingredients inventory, and overall sanitation?
It’s the little things that are so easy to lose sight of when focusing on “big picture” initiatives. Don’t lose the forest for the trees… or the toppings for the pizza!