Some say it takes three data points to make a trend, so it may be time to examine why several non-pizza restaurant chains are adding pizza to their menus.
Consider Panera, which launched a new flatbread pizza lineup in late 2020.
More recently, Buffalo Wild Wings introduced a Buffalo Boneless Bar Pizza and a Honey BBQ Boneless Bar Pizza. Both are topped with the chain’s boneless wings and sauces, among other ingredients.
Thirdly, Tim Hortons is getting in on the action by testing flatbread pizza at several restaurants in its home market of Canada.
Rather than starting from scratch, Red Robin is making a concerted effort to integrate Donatos pizza into its restaurants, with more than 200 locations now including the option.
There are likely several drivers of this so-called trend. For starters, pizza companies experienced disproportionate success during the pandemic as families ate in groups while hunkering down at home and avoiding dine-in concepts.
Much of that momentum has continued, particularly as inflationary-weary consumers gravitate toward value offerings. A $5-to-$10 large pizza that can feed an entire family likely qualifies as “value” to most people.
Further, consumers’ penchant for ordering their food off-premise, whether via delivery, drive-thru or carryout, has remained elevated even as dine-in restrictions have eased. Few menu offerings travel as well as pizza.
Perhaps the biggest draw for consumers is that pizza is simply one of the most popular foods, particularly with football season upon us. Adding a few flatbreads to the menu is a surefire way to win over that always-critical veto vote.
Buffalo Wild Wings CMO Rita Patel alluded to this in a statement, saying, “With wings tossed in any of our 26 sauces and seasoning, 30-plus beer taps, wall-to-wall TVs and now Boneless Bar Pizza, why would fans choose to go anywhere else?”
On the business side, pizza is relatively easy to add to operations, particularly if there are few ingredients or if the ingredients already exist, as is the case with Buffalo Wild Wings’ boneless wings. Perhaps more importantly, pizza businesses generate a 15% profit margin on average, compared to 3-to-5% for other restaurants.
There could also very well be a competitive move at play here, and perhaps some market share up for grabs–albeit nominal. Sales at category leaders Domino’s and Pizza Hut have turned negative in recent quarters, as demand goes unfulfilled due to delivery driver shortages. Consumers who have hit a roadblock trying to order delivery now have a few more choices to fall back on to satisfy their pizza craving.
Ultimately, time will tell if pizza becomes a growing staple at concepts traditionally known for their breakfast or their chicken wings. Right now, however, these launches are making for some interesting narratives. Take, Panera for instance. Its pizzas have helped the chain surpass its pre-pandemic performance metrics, executives have said, and boost its dinner daypart in particular.
Red Robin’s restaurants with Donatos pizza have outperformed other restaurants by 300 basis points and have helped lift the chain’s off-premise business to over 40% of its sales. Red Robin expects its pizza profitability to exceed $25 million by next year.
Who knows, maybe the McPizza will eventually make a comeback. That item, which was discontinued in 2000, has been trending lately on Twitter, so it’s best not to count anything out.