Takeda Pharmaceutical looks outside Asia for a cure to its blues
The middle is a tough place to be.”
At a Pizza Hut in Lantana, Texas, one of the restaurants where the rebranding is on trial, the interior has a modern look: pendant-style industrial lights and exposed rock on the walls. Rather than sitting down and waiting to place their order, diners can pick what they want at the counter and watch their food being assembled. New ovens can cook a pizza at 575F in just three minutes. The regular cook time at lower temperatures, used during lessbusy hours, is six and a half minutes. “Our goal is to have restaurants that are easy to operate, accessible, and inviting,” says David Gibbs, chief executive officer of the chain. “The new concept is designed for speed.”
An additional 1,000 of the speedy ovens will be rolled out nationwide this year. The eatery in Lantana, says General Manager Terri Smith, is drawing crowds at lunchtime, when 90 percent of customers are ordering a new discounted $5 lunch special: a 9-inch three-topping pizza and a drink. The extra speed makes a difference “when people have 30-minute lunch breaks,” she says. Diners like the open kitchen, which lets them watch the cooks take the dough out of a cooler, top it, bake it, and slice it. “They can see it from start to finish,” Smith says.
Still, some of Pizza Hut’s rivals are ahead of that curve. They’ve also been more innovative with ingredients. Pie Five Pizza promises its dough and marinara sauce are made fresh in restaurants each day; Blaze has a vegan cheese option and already cooks its pies in three minutes. Allnatural bacon and whole-wheat crusts are on the menu at Pieology Pizzeria, where sales more than doubled last year, Technomic says.
Pizza Hut has seen plenty of competitors rise and fall since its founding in 1958, when two brothers borrowed $600 from their mother to open a pizzeria in Wichita. By 1971 it was the world’s No. 1 pizza chain; it still is, but Domino’s is closing the gap in the U.S. That rival’s sales reached $4.1 billion in 2014, more than half coming from digital orders, according to Technomic, while Pizza Hut’s U.S. sales declined 3.5 percent, to $5.5 billion.
“They’ve struggled. You can see it in the numbers,” says Jack Russo, an analyst at Edward Jones. “Domino’s has done a pretty good job.” Meanwhile, fast-casual rivals have an easier time charging more for their fare. Customers might be willing to loosen their purse strings occasionally—but not at Pizza Hut, he says. “I think they’re going to do it more at a Panera Bread.” �Leslie Patton
-3.5% The bottom line To woo diners, Pizza Hut is shaking up its ordering process and installing ovens that cook pies in just three minutes.