Serving up Success

Pizza franchises have enjoyed a terrific 12 months of trade, as Britain chose to avoid the cold and order-in during one of the harshest winters on record. Gareth Samuel looks at why pizzas are all the rage in a relatively slow market for catering businesses.

The bleak winter was tough on many catering businesses, as people chose to stay at home to save money. However pizza franchises managed to carve out steady growth, by combining new technologies to provide popular offers with unparalleled convenience.

In 2012, The Economist reported that the takeaway business was suffering as consumers looked to save money by cooking at home. Pizza franchises were able to counter the economic downturn by offering revolutionary web-based ordering services, such as Pizza Hut’s ‘Order Online’ tool.

Pizza Hut’s Managing Director, Mark Fox, believes that the reason pizza franchises have been particularly successful is their customer focus. He says: “It might sound obvious, but the customer experience is essential to running a successful franchise. At Pizza Hut, we believe that by constantly tasking ourselves to improve the customer experience, whether that’s through access, menu variety, value or service, we will continue to improve our position in the market relative to other competitors.”

The recent success of pizza franchises is reflected in the dramatic increase in invested franchise owners. Sbarro, the American pizza giant, now has over 1,000 restaurant locations worldwide, while Pizza Hut has more than 5,000 franchise owners operating outside of the US. Many pizza franchises have also taken full advantage of the latest craze of mobile apps – Figaro’s Pizza has a mobile ordering app that allows customers to pick from the entire menu, including their daily offers, and place an order quickly and easily.

The internet has revolutionised almost every UK industry and the fast-food business is no exception. Ordering pizza, as a consumer, is now easier than ever, as franchises use interactive menus, online payments and cutting edge logistics to deliver a hot pizza to-door in less than 30 minutes.

Mark believes it is Pizza Hut’s commitment to innovation that is keeping them at the forefront of the fast-food industry. He continues: “Almost half of Pizza Hut’s delivered sales are from e-commerce. Following the launch of our mobile app in August 2012, mobile ordering accounts for some 20 per cent of our online sales. Digital accessibility and ease of use is crucial for an increasingly tech-savvy audience.

“New product development is key to driving sales and frequency growth. Whether it’s some of our indulgent and fun products, like Hot Dog Stuffed Crust and our signature cookie dough, or tasty sides like pasta or cheese triangles, we always seek to deliver great tasting, fun and innovative products.”

In the US, the public have always had a soft spot for pizza. Earlier this year, Time Magazine printed that currently 41 per cent of US citizens eat pizza at least once per week. That figure has risen from 26 per cent in just a few years.

Over here, Britons bought into the idea of pizza as soon as the first traditional pizzerias arrived from Europe in the 1930s. The public went mad for the unique and exotic taste of the cheese and tomato-covered flatbread, invented by Neapolitan chefs in the 19th century. The surge in popularity of pizza has not gone unnoticed by celebrities trying to latch on to public feeling either – recently, 72-year-old Sir Patrick Stewart made national headlines by sampling his first ever slice.

Britain’s love affair with pizza has transcended multiple decades – it is now one of the most popular meals in the country. In a 2012 poll conducted by The Sun, pizza came in as the UK’s fourth most popular choice of takeaway – beating burgers and fried chicken.

Jeff Fromm, of the Quick Service Restaurant website, proposes that the driving force behind pizza’s enduring success is its convenience, as well as its capacity for encouraging social interaction. Jeff writes: “Modern people like brands that are share-worthy. While this normally means that they want to talk about brands through social media, it doesn’t discount the desire to share with their friends. “Pizza has always been a food that you buy to share with a crowd. So, whether you’re ordering delivery before the big game or going out to eat, pizza allows millennials to mix, match and share.” It is also a meal, which provides a great deal of variety. “Pizza is a meal that never gets old,” Jeff adds. “One night it’s classic cheese and marinara, and the next is a Greek-inspired creation with hummus. Restaurants have tapped into this desire for new pizza creations.”

Pizza franchises have long been an attractive proposal for investors. Big brands such as Pizza Hut, Sbarro, Figaro’s Pizza, Domino’s, Papa John’s and Perfect Pizza, offer a proven business model with continued support to ensure success. Before considering investing in a pizza franchise, be aware of the massive amount of competition in the catering industry. Choosing to take on a fast-food franchise can yield plentiful rewards, but vying for success with near endless competitors takes work.

Franchise owner Devand Patel, of Perfect Pizza in Cambridge, said: “To be successful in this business, you have to know your market and then give them what they want. We have a lot of students around here, so our marketing focuses heavily on them.”

In fact, students and young people have a notable soft-spot for pizza, which suggests that pizza franchise owners’ blossoming businesses are likely to take an even bigger slice of the UK takeaway market in years to come.