Menu Innovations | April 2014 | By Bryan Reesman

The Upper Crust

Traditional pizza concept takes a page from fast casual’s playbook.

Pizza chains improve menu quality to compete with upstart fast casual brands.
Pizza Hut
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The fast-casual pizza category is booming with its more personalized customization experience, and traditional quick-serve pizza brands are taking note. Earlier this year, Pizza Hut unveiled its Hand-Tossed pizza as a fresh new option with a lighter crust akin to the fast-casual segment’s artisanal offerings.

“We’ve heard from our consumers that they’re looking for a little more uniqueness in their experiences,” says Doug Terfehr, spokesman. He says the company responded with the most popular way that people get pizza: tossed by hand.

“In our opinion, pizza … has always been made to order,” Terfehr says. “Bringing it more to the … top setting is new and a trend that we’re definitely paying attention to.”

Rachel Kalt, creative solutions manager for restaurant consulting firm The Culinary Edge, says there is a growing desire from increasingly knowledgeable consumers for a more authentic eating experience.

“A lot of these fast-casual concepts that you see are pizzas being hand stretched in front of you and using high-end ingredients,” Kalt says. Pizza Hut realized hand-tossed crust can speak to an authentic, elevated experience, she says.

Jim Reynolds, corporate chef and director of R&D for consulting firm Charlie Baggs Culinary Innovations, sees quick-serve chains trying to shed their corporate image and the notion of mass-produced items.

“This Pizza Hut concept ... [is] trying to bring back the art in food, trying to be able to tell a story about food, really trying to make it seem like it’s produced here,” Reynolds says.