Pizza Hut rolled out a major brand reboot this week, a move that many see as an appeal to the Millennial generation and a response to the booming fast-casual industry.
The world’s largest pizza chain, a division of Yum! Brands, is adding a wave of new ingredients, some lower-calorie alternatives, reworked digital ordering, and even a new, circular logo, hoping that the changes will boost lagging sales.
“We are radically reinventing the pizza category,” chief executive David Gibbs says in a statement. Gibbs, who was introduced as the Plano, Texas–based pizza chain’s new global CEO last week, adds that the changes will bring “an entirely new look and feel to our brand.”
The new menu, titled the “Flavor of Now,” retains favorites like the Supreme and Meat Lover’s Stuffed Crust pizzas but introduces 10 new crust-edge flavors, five new signature sauces, four drizzles, and five new ingredients, such as sliced banana peppers and salami.
The rollout, which begins November 19, is the result of a year of planning, during which more than 200 ingredients and flavors were tested. Some items, such as the barbecue and creamy garlic Parmesan sauces, had been parts of previous limited-time offers.
Guests can create their own pies or choose a signature pizza, a list that includes 11 new options, such as Sweet Sriracha Dynamite, which features honey sriracha flavoring in the crust edge, sauce, and drizzle, as well as grilled chicken and Peruvian cherry peppers. Meanwhile, the new Skinny Slice menu offers five large pizzas with 230 or fewer calories per slice.
The move by Pizza Hut seems to capitalize on several food trends, says Justin Massa, founder of Food Genius, a Chicago-based market research firm.
“Pizza Hut is attempting to hit ‘reset’ on their brand and dramatically change how consumers perceive them,” he says.
Many of the new ingredients, including those with sriracha, buffalo, ginger, and curry flavors, are popular with Generation Y, aka Millennials, who range in age from late teens to mid-30s and who embrace the exploration of spicier and ethnic foods, experts say. This young demographic group also likes to customize their meals.
“Millennials seem to be attracted to the flexibility of a highly customizable menu and spicy items—a clear theme of [Pizza Hut’s] menu revamp,” Massa says. These attributes are behind the explosive success of fast-casual restaurants, including several upstart pizza brands, he adds.
Generation Y is a powerful force, made up of about 80 million Americans. Although they are not a majority, they are influencing how the rest of us think, says branding expert Leeann Leahy, president of The VIA Agency in Portland, Maine.
“Millennials are truly changing the expectations and needs of all categories, but especially dining, whether quick service, fast casual, or casual,” she says. Predictability is their enemy, she adds, and pizza has been a fairly predictable food. “They are always looking to find something new and then sharing that experience. If there’s no experience, then there’s nothing to talk about, and if they’re not talking about it, then it didn’t happen.”
Another major trend that Pizza Hut’s new menu addresses is the increase in health- and weight-conscious consumers. The Skinny Slice pizzas use a thinner version of Pizza Hut’s hand-tossed crust to help lower the calorie count of a 14-inch, eight-slice pie.
Pizza Hut says it is simply responding to consumer demand. “We are the category leader in pizza, and plan to stay that way because we respond to what our customers want,” says spokeswoman Courtney Moscovic. “We know today’s consumers are more adventurous, and they are seeking new flavors.”
Pizza has always been customizable, and Pizza Hut’s new menu will allow for some 2 billion possible combinations, she adds.
Financial analysts say the revamp can’t come soon enough for Pizza Hut.
“This is one of Yum’s concepts that has been a laggard in the past year,” says R.J. Hottovy, a restaurant analyst with Morningstar, a Chicago-based investment firm. The chain’s U.S. sales dropped 2 percent during its third fiscal quarter that ended in September. Fiscal-year sales were also down 2 percent.
The new menu is part of a holistic effort to reinvent all the contact points with consumers, Hottovy adds, going beyond price and value to include menu innovation and easier mobile ordering, something competitor Domino’s has been doing.
“This is not just in the pizza space, but in the broader [quick-service] space,” he says. “There is a demand from consumers for new ingredients. There’s also a shorter attention span with consumers looking for more innovation,” forcing faster menu turnover.
Moscovic says more flavors and ingredients will be on the way. “This is just the beginning,” she says, adding that some crust-edge flavors, sauces, and drizzles that didn’t make the initial cut could be added later.
The menu launch will be bolstered by a deal offering two medium pizzas with a total of four toppings between the two pies for $6.99. Crust edge flavoring and drizzle are free.
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