Domino’s provided preliminary first-quarter results on March 30 that backed this data up. The company said “all but a handful of its U.S. stores” remained open and, from February 24 to March 22, compared to last year, domestic same-store sales climbed 5 percent at corporate units and 0.8 percent at franchised (1 percent blended).
The brand expects Q1 sales to rise 1.6 percent. While that would mark 36 consecutive periods of quarterly gains, it would also represent Domino’s lowest number since Q2 2011. Still, it’s in the green.
At Papa John’s, from December 30 to January 26, comp sales leaped 9.4 percent at U.S. corporate stores, 7.1 percent at North American franchises, 7.6 percent systemwide in North America, and 4.9 percent internationally as it charts a turnaround. By the end of Q1, the trajectory of those numbers was affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, but Papa John’s remained in the black. Same-store sales at North American units systemwide grew 5.3 percent. Comps increased 6.1 percent at domestic company-operated stores and 5.1 percent at North American franchises. International units grew 2.3 percent. The only period to dip below zero came February 24 to March 29 when comp sales at international stores dipped 0.6 percent.
All said, those are stellar COVID-19 results, even measured against a soft 2019 when Papa John’s was working its way through customer sentiment issues tied to its breakup with founder John Schnatter.
On the other side of Sense360’s spectrum, MOD and Blaze absorbed much bigger COVID-19 blows. In recent weeks, they’ve experienced drops more aligned with fast casual and even full-service chains.
Sense360 said several points should be considered. Consumers are more focused on value, and the price per serving from the Big Four is lower than it is for MOD and Blaze, understandably. Additionally, the larger chains cater more toward group party sizes, while MOD and Blaze have long crafted models around the individually sized product.
Sense360 added consumers may also be more familiar with ordering delivery and takeout from Domino’s, Papa John’s, Pizza Hut, and Little Caesar’s (historically a takeout-only operation that shifted gears in January). To the value note, Little Caesar’s built a nearly 5,000-unit empire on price points few could rival.
MOD and Blaze also skew more urban in terms of footprint. Previous survey data from Sense360 showed that people in rural areas tend to be more COVID-19 optimistic than those in urban markets. It also doesn’t hurt being able to drive and park outside for contactless, curbside service.
An additional element to consider about MOD and Blaze is that they don’t have a first-party delivery network like bigger chains do. This brings up a question: Are they just down because they’ve witnessed a channel shift toward delivery during COVID-19?
Sense360 looked at DoorDash transaction data to find out.
In this chart, Sense360 found no material channel shift toward third-party delivering happening with MOD and Blaze, at least in terms of DoorDash. The two brands tracked a flat level of market share within DoorDash from the pre-COVID-10 period to now. This suggests third-party delivery is not creating a one-for-one replacement of losses in direct transactions in recent weeks.
Even if it were, the channel is simply less profitable than dine-in and carryout service.