A confidence booster arrived late January in the form of a $200 million investment from Starboard Value LP. About half of that is going back into the business, Papa John’s said. The company added two members to the chain’s board, Starboard’s CEO Jeffrey Smith, who is also taking on the role of chairman at Papa John’s, and Anthony Sanfilippo, the former chairman and CEO of Pinnacle Entertainment.
Starboard engineered one of the industry’s biggest comeback stories when it staged a rare shareholder coup of casual-dining company Darden’s board in 2014. It pushed for operational changes and, within 18 months, the company saw its stock lift 47 percent. Smith served as chairman of Darden’s board until April 2016. Olive Garden, by the way, progressed from negative same-store sales to positive comps growth every quarter after Smith joined. It’s currently riding a 17-period streak of gains.
Ritchie said Smith has “been actively engaged as our new chairman as we evaluate and adjust our plans and strategies for 2019. He is also helping us stay focused on the value drivers of Papa John's, namely quality pizza and building strong consumer connections.”
Let’s examine that value note first.
Papa John’s plans to launch a new advertising campaign in March that joins six new permanent specialty pizzas. Ritchie said it’s the most extensive product launch Papa John’s has ever tried in terms of number of pizzas. They are: the Ultimate Pepperoni, Meatball Pepperoni, Philly Cheesesteak, Fiery Buffalo Chicken, Zesty Italian Trio, and the Super Hawaiian. A hot and honey chicken and waffle pizza, which won Papa John’s specialty pizza contest, is coming later in the year as well.
Although Papa John’s has not settled on a specific value proposition, it’s currently finding success with a tiered structure that focuses on $6 value price points and $12 specialty pies. Sandwiches have been in pilots, too. BTIG analyst Peter Saleh wrote in a note Wednesday that Papa John’s could benefit from a consistent value proposition to compete with Pizza Hut’s $5 Lineup and Domino’s long-running $5.99 Mix and Match platform.
Ritchie admitted that creating accessible value has been an issue for Papa John’s. The relaunch of Papa Rewards in late Q4 was an important step, he said, because “of the value and variety it provides our customers, and the consumer insights we gain.”
Importantly, it provides Papa John’s data to engage with consumers in one-to-one marketing and to market by segment. This, down the line, will drive traffic without relying on blanket discounts across all channels, Ritchie said.
One recent example was a rewards-only promotion that offered free pizza to members who spent $20 during Super Bowl week. “These targeted offerings and other exclusive perks that are tailored to the customer also build brand loyalty,” he said.
Marketing now can go through Papa John’s individual proprietary channels as opposed to the traditional top-of-the-funnel approach. Papa John’s also stepped up its national marketing fund contribution rate from 4.5 percent in 2018 to 4.75 percent on January 1 as it looks to push these various messages.