Additionally, over the past year, Pizza Hut International drove a significant inflection in its unit growth, going from negative net expansion to opening nearly 200 net venues in just Q3, or more than 300 better than a year ago.
KFC, off its comeback goals, pieced together eight years of growth. Hochman thinks this two-year spurt for Pizza Hut is just the opening act, “both in building new stores and growing the comps of our existing stores.”
Hochman entered his role as Pizza Hut’s interim U.S. president with two aims—restore the chain’s relationship and trust with franchisees, and layer momentum into the business. He’s leaving it confident that framework is in place.
On January 1, Graves succeeded him as president and Hochman resumed full-time duties at KFC. These moves solidified leadership under Pizza Hut CEO Aaron Powell, a Kimberly-Clark veteran who joined in September to fill a spot vacated in April by now-Topgolf CEO Artie Starrs. Regardless of the structure, though, the key is Pizza Hut’s core has been set.
“What are the types of pizzas they think our customers want?” Hochman says of the blueprint. “What are the things that make Pizza Hut so darn special and helped it last so many decades? And then, construct a plan with the franchisees on how we’re going to contemporize that. How are we going to take this into the 21st century, both in terms of the pizzas we sell, how do we go to market and how do we advertise, and the transformation in a business that’s going to do more and more sales off-premises.”
“And that’s where we hatched the strategy of we wanted to become America’s favorite pizza again,” he adds.
Beyond the immaterial, what did this mean? “If you look at what we’ve done that’s powered our growth during 2020 and now during 2021, we have the all-star lineup of pizzas,” Graves says. “Pizza Hut invented Pan Pizza . It invented Stuffed Crust Pizza . We invented the Supreme Pizza [1977 as the Super Supreme Pizza]. We were actually able to tap back into that all-star lineup and really advertise them and that has excited customers about the different types of pizzas and experience you can have with Pizza Hut.” (On a side, Pizza Hut actually started with thin-crust pizza, not pan, much to contrary opinion. The now-famous pan product was created with thicker dough that would travel better as off-premises became a larger part of Pizza Hut’s model).
Graves’ point is exactly why the company started to lean aggressively into hallmark innovations again. And why it led with new ones, as it historically always did—such as Detroit Style Pizza, an early 2021 LTO that sold out in a couple of weeks. Graves says the item was a collaboration with franchisees that returned Pizza Hut to yet another pillar: the ability to democratize major pizza trends for the masses.
Dressed down, Graves says, the goal is to bring “pizzas that people who love pizza want” to market. And to do so at moments where it’s relevant.
One of the first things Hochman and Graves tackled was to refocus Pizza Hut’s promotional calendar to put guest favorites front-and-center. That included the return of its iconic, 24-piece “Big Dipper” in March 2020. On the innovation front, the chain introduced plant-based options with Beyond Meat that November.