You Wanna Pizza Me? – How Innovation And Digital Ordering Is Changing The Pizza Industry
The pizza industry, after an extended period of dormancy, has surged back into the national gastronomic consciousness. The grapple for space between legacy brands and new upstarts has dominated restaurant news headlines. Innovation has facilitated the rise of fast casual chains like Blaze, MOD, and &pizza, while new management at bigger chains embracing technology has awoken sleeping giants like Papa John’s and Domino’s.
Led by revered CEO Patrick Doyle, Domino’s is currently the largest pizza chain in the world, having usurped old rivals Pizza Hut earlier this year. Doyle’s departure this June caps over eight years of stunning success, with an improved menu, booming share price and ultra-efficient approach to delivery. After his famous assertion that Domino’s is now “as much a tech company as we are a pizza company”, the chain has garnered a reputation as an adopter of avant-garde tech innovations, from their own delivery vehicle to voice ordering, the result being that Domino’s seems to be secure in their position as industry leader for now.
That being said, the Ann Arbor pizza giants will have to watch their backs. Papa John’s now has a significant digital presence, with over 60% of their orders now coming through digital channels, mostly mobile. Little Caesar’s has also revolutionized its business model in the last decade or so: grabbing a huge chunk of market share, the company has booming sales and was named the most underappreciated growth restaurant in the country by NRN.
Then there are the new kids on the block. MOD Pizza, founded by a married couple in 2008, boasts 330 stores as of March, opening over 100 stores in 2016 and 110 in 2017 with aggressive growth still on the agenda. This considerable brick-and-mortar expansion is coupled by regular funding announcements (they have now raised over $185m), bolstering MOD’s reputation as an industry disruptor with staying power.
Hot on their tail is Blaze Pizza, with it’s mind-boggling growth and celebrity backing in the form of LeBron James, Maria Shriver, and others. Co-founder Rick Wetzel (of Wetzel’s Pretzels fame) believes that 500 locations by 2020 is a feasible goal, with the brand planning 87 new locations by the end of this year. With an order turnaround time under four minutes and the only piece of cooking equipment being the 800 °F gas-fired oven, Blaze has redefined efficiency in an industry known for bloated customer wait times.
Washington D.C. brand &pizza is one of the newer chains that has popped up, trying to grab a slice of the (pizza) pie. The ‘counterculture pizza brand’ have made employees or ‘Tribe Members’ feel valued, to the point that significant amount of them now bear an ampersand tattoo, paid for by the company. There are ample opportunities for career progression within the company, while CEO Michael Lastoria is fighting for a $15 minimum wage. They even have a 24/7 texting hotline for customers, if you’re feeling lonely. All of this ensures the company has a motivated workforce to serve the oblong pizzas that have earned award after award in the nation’s capital and beyond.
Innovation in the pizza world has changed. Tom Monaghan, upon opening the first Domino’s, invented a type of insulated pizza box that stacked better than the industry standard, permitting him to deliver pizzas that were not only uncrushed but still hot. Today, half of the workforce at the company headquarters works in software and analytics. Embracing unfamiliar tech such as digital ordering has been the key to success for pizza companies in the last decade. How companies will adapt it and leverage it to grow will define the next one.
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