Papa John’s other vital source of innovation is its menu. In Q1, the big hit was the Epic Stuffed Crust pizza, which launched at the end of December. The product, mostly used by new customers, exceeded expectations. Lynch said culinary innovation is positively impacting international business as Papa John’s leverages its worldwide scale by sharing successful ideas across the network. For example, after the launch of Papadias, an add-on that’s proved incremental, the chain decided to roll out the innovation to 25 international markets early in 2021. The Epic Stuffed Crust pizza and Papadias are built on a premium platform, and that means Papa John’s is relying less on discounting to engage customers. This has led to better margins and higher unit level economics, Lynch noted.
Epic Stuffed Crust has been so successful that it’s prevented new innovation from hitting the market. As Lynch said, it wouldn’t be a good strategy to pull the plug on something that’s doing that well. It actually gives Papa John’s the luxury of continuing to build the innovation pipeline without needing it. Although he won’t disclose specifics, Lynch assured that more innovation is on the way in 2021.
“We had already planned to have launched new innovation already this year, but when you’re doing the kind of sales that we’re doing and it’s being driven by an initiative that you’re promoting, it’s really hard to take that thing off of promotion,” Lynch said. “So we are looking at a lot of different models, whether it is bringing a new item in the short-term or launching a new platform over a bit of a longer term or potentially moving into a space where we really haven’t been before where we're promoting two items at once. We have the innovation, it’s ready to go, we’re really excited about it.”
Papa John’s, however, isn’t immune to the growing labor crisis hitting the restaurant industry. Lynch said the brand has always done its best to serve as an “employer of choice” at the corporate and store level, and it’s working with franchisees to do the same. The CEO noted that the primary gap in labor is with delivery drivers, and the best way to resolve that is higher sales in restaurants because that means more volume and higher wages for drivers. Lynch said Papa John’s drivers earn “significantly more” than the average minimum wage—a pretty decent retention tool for the brand. Leaning on third-party delivery drivers had relieved pressure, as well.
Papa John’s has also provided frontline bonuses and healthcare benefits to keep workers.
“Our goal is to continue to be an employer of choice, and treat our employees the way that’s consistent with maintaining them,” Lynch said. “In terms of going out and getting more, we could hire 10,000 more employees right now, so we’re always looking for great talented people who want to come and be a part of something that’s growing and something where we have been taking care of these communities for the last year, and a lot of our employees take pride in that.”
Based on Q1's strength and strong sales in April, Papa John's projects that it will deliver flat to slightly positive comps in North America in Q2. And that's with markets reopening and a lap of double-digit comps growth a year ago.
Total revenues in Q1 increased 24.9 percent to $511.7 million. Net income increased to $33.9 million, or $0.82 diluted earnings per share, compared to $8.4 million, or $0.15 diluted earnings per share, in 2020. Operating income lifted from $15.5 million to $46.9 million this year.