When Alena Tikhova assumed the role of CEO of Dodo Brands in January, she brought with her a wealth of experience from the tech world. Previously, she had served as a franchisee of Dodo Pizza U.S. and as vice president of XRobotics, a Silicon Valley startup focused on developing pizza robots.

Dodo Pizza has long been known for its embrace of the unconventional, from pioneering innovative reusable pizza boxes to positioning itself as a transparent, digital-first foodservice concept. What began as the brainchild of founder Fyodor Ovchinnikov in rural Russia has evolved into a global enterprise with a team of 200 software engineers, 1,033 units in 21 countries, and $985 million in systemwide sales in 2023.

“If you look at the history of the company, it’s a stream of unorthodox decisions,” Tikhova says. “Our philosophy has always been to stay open to innovation, on top of recent technologies, and create fun experiences for our customers. It’s what makes us operate differently than bigger chains, and that’s how we like it.”

The latest innovation from Dodo Pizza that has captivated customers is a partnership with ChatGPT. In February, the multinational pizza chain officially introduced an AI-powered pizza flavor generator within its Dubai mobile application. Now, customers can use the app to generate personalized pizza recommendations based on their moods and preferences, which can then be ordered online for delivery.

With over 30 million flavor combinations and more than 35 ingredients to choose from, customers can select mood options such as “post-workout,” “game night,” or “new in town” and receive tailored pizza suggestions within seconds. They can even name the pizza and view a generated image through AI program Midjourney before placing their order.

Dodo Pizza’s regular menu has expanded to include 17 experimental ingredients, offering items like fuzzily, popcorn, duck, pumpkin seeds, melon, and guacamole.

“We included ingredients we don’t normally put on pizza because we figured we might as well,” Tikhova adds. “Customers can play with it repeatedly if they’d like to, or they can order a regular pepperoni pizza. We’re giving them unlimited choices.”

Integrating this function into the Dodo Pizza app was a natural step for the chain, given its existing use of AI in both kitchen operations and customer service. Tikhova believes it makes sense to leverage AI in a customer-facing capacity, especially considering the widespread discussion surrounding AI in the foodservice industry.

“It’s hard not to pay attention to AI, everybody’s talking about it,” Tikhova says. “The combination of this buzz and the fact that we were already using this fresh, cool technology made this move an obvious choice for us.”

In Dubai, where pizza accounts for 25 percent of all restaurant types according to GlobalData, the AI flavor generator helps Dodo Pizza distinguish itself in a fiercely competitive and technologically advanced market.

Tikhova anticipates the feature will not only attract new customers but also encourage existing ones to explore new options. However, she acknowledges that the real value lies in the insights gained about customers and their choices.

When a guest uses the pizza flavor generator, Dodo Pizza gains valuable information about their preferences and situations. This data allows the company to tailor its marketing efforts and enhance the overall customer experience.

“[With the pizza flavor generator] we can see that someone is in town for the first time, and they chose us as a tourist destination,” Tikhova explains. “Or we know if someone orders a particular combination of pizza when they’re thinking of hosting a game night. This is the type of information we don’t normally get, and by adding it up, there’s unlimited potential for our marketing programs.”

For example, Dodo Pizza plans to collaborate with local travel agencies to target tourists visiting Dubai based on their pizza preferences. Tikhova views this data as a powerful tool for attracting a wider audience and improving guest experiences.

Tikhova believes that the AI-powered flavor generator caters to busy customers seeking quick, customized orders and adventurous eaters looking to try something new and innovative. For her, being unconventional is not just part of Dodo Pizza’s identity—it’s also reflective of the brand’s target audience.

“Some people are quite traditional, and we have options for them. But a lot of people are willing to play around, and our ideal customers encompass those innovators,” Tikhova says.

Since its beta launch in November 2023, the feature has generated over 10,000 pizzas and has been tried by 20 percent of app users in Dubai. While still in the experimental stage, Tikhova has observed an upward trend in customer loyalty.

“We’re seeing order frequencies increase from existing customers, and we’re seeing new customers take five seconds to install our app and take advantage of the features, which is our end goal,” Tikhova says. “In Dubai, there are many third-party aggregators, and while they’re great, I would prefer to get people to start ordering through our app … That’s what really excites me.”

In 2024, Dodo Pizza plans to introduce the AI pizza flavor generator across its locations in Europe, Southeast Asia, and Africa. Ultimately, Tikhova envisions making this feature available to all customers across every store—a step she hopes will pave the way for further innovations. “I want this to be our first step towards more innovations in this sector,” Tikhova says. “I love technology, and I think we’re living through the best of times in terms of development. Bigger companies tend to have a harder time jumping on these latest ideas, but we’re prepared to keep the spirit of a startup and make the leap no matter what.”

Menu Innovations, Pizza, Story, Technology, Dodo Pizza