Absent from its menu for about a decade, Papa John’s has brought back a pan pizza, now made with ingredients under its clean label initiative.
The new pizza joins Papa John’s hand-tossed and thin-crust products and has been in select test markets for the last several months.
“Pan [pizza] is a significant percentage of sales in the pizza industry, and we thought it was an opportunity for us,” says Sean Muldoon, Papa John’s chief ingredients officer. “About 18 months ago, we started to get serious about if we could do a pan product. There are some intricacies in terms of how you have to do that on a store level.”
Muldoon says that in the test markets, the new pan pizza has comprised a double-digit percentage of overall sales and that the company has been able to work through some of the operational complexities that come with making it.
Because of the new pizza’s thicker, heartier crust, Papa John’s had to reconfigure cooking processes and some stores had to buy new ovens or dedicate ovens directly to cooking the pan pizza.
But the six-month research-and-development phase and nominal costs of new ovens has been worth it for the brand, based on feedback it has gotten from consumers throughout the process.
“One of the things most important to pan pizza lovers is the crust itself. They really like the crust to be crispy and cheesy and buttery,” Muldoon says. “And so we had to spend a lot of time in the R&D phase of the process working through hundreds of iterations of recipes on flour and different methods of cooking to try to get to that standard.”
Muldoon says Papa John’s took the pizza to consumer research and focus groups with some of pan pizza’s biggest fans.
“They were heavy pan lovers; they are people that are regular customers at some of our biggest competitors,” he says. “And it was great to hear their feedback, because we got some very favorable ratings relative to the overall flavor of our product compared to competitors, as well as strong ratings in terms of purchase intent.”
Muldoon says the product is also bringing in new customers who enjoy pan pizza and have not been eating at Papa John’s because it has not been present on the menu.
The new crust is made with seven ingredients: a blend of flour, extra virgin olive oil, cold filtered water, sugar, salt, yeast, and oil, and is fresh and never frozen, according to Papa John’s.
“We really love the outside cheese ring. We say that’s where the magic is,” Muldoon says. “I think it delivers on that crispy, cheesy, buttery concept.”
The seasoned tomato sauce for the new pizza is a variation of Papa John’s signature pizza sauce, made with California tomatoes.
Beginning October 10, the pizza brand will also roll out a new advertising campaign featuring former NFL quarterback Peyton Manning, NFL Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt, and company founder “Papa John” Schnatter.
By Alex Dixon