Regina Borda, managing director of Pizza Hut Europe and Canada, takes a trip down memory lane when explaining how this enduring franchise cornered the market, slice-by-slice.
Interview by Kieran McLoone, deputy editor for Global Franchise
Back in the 1980s, then-head of marketing at Pizza Hut, David Novak, set his team one simple goal: release a brand-new innovation approximately once every six to eight weeks. This drive led to a handful of misfires, like a pizza cone and waffle crust, but also elevated the established franchise’s popular offering; the ‘Lovers’ line of pizzas including the likes of Meat Lovers and Supreme Lovers, for example, went on to become a staple of the brand.
Today, that evolution and the desire to bring customers something fresh and unheard of is still a defining pillar of Pizza Hut, but in a world of instant gratification, convenience has arguably taken over as the backbone to brand success.
“Product innovation is very much at the heart of our brand,” says Regina Borda, managing director of Pizza Hut Europe and Canada. “One of the strengths of Pizza Hut is how we balance innovation with customer convenience. We invest a lot of time and energy in training our team members, so the customer journey and experience are consistent and easy. No one wants to find their favorite pizza is constantly changing, but we are always exploring how our products can better serve our customers to provide more delicious options.”
If Pizza Hut’s shift in gears from inventing quirky products to doubling-down on delivery needs to be any clearer, in 2017, parent company Yum! invested $22m in research and development – hardly a paltry figure, but negligible when compared to the over $130m that the organization put into pizza delivery tech and related marketing.
If the enduring legacy of Pizza Hut is defined by anything, it is this: delivery is king.
A sign of the times
While an all-encompassing focus on customer convenience might seem like a natural step for any long-time brand to take, especially those in F&B, it’s only commonplace because frontrunners like Pizza Hut have made it so.
“We’ve been on a 60-year journey, from small beginnings in the 1950s Midwest to becoming a global brand. We’ve changed and learned as we’ve grown, but our central principle of providing delicious pizza to families and communities has never changed,” says Borda, who goes on to provide some guidance based on the brand’s philosophy: “Be easy to access and order from – this changes over time. Nowadays, our customers are looking for us online, so we need to have a great e-commerce platform, be present on food aggregators such as Uber Eats and Deliveroo, and have a simple customer journey.”
Being where your audience needs you to be is only half the battle, of course. Brands need to be able to provide exactly what the customer wants, so that nine times out of 10, they’ll choose to return to their favorite pizza franchise, and not one of the countless other concepts on offer in this dense and competitive market.
“While the pizza toppings might change in different countries, the look and feel of our brand is global”
“We pride ourselves on working with our community and listening to its needs, adapting our offer accordingly and in turn remaining relevant for our customers,” says Borda. “It’s important to us that we are always walking alongside and tuned into our customers, especially through periods of change.”
The customer is always right
Naturally, this dynamic approach to menu innovation doesn’t suddenly mean that a restaurant like Pizza Hut should introduce hamburgers (although a burger-filled crust is yet another of the brand’s countless popular inventions), but meeting customers on their own turf is a surefire way to generate loyalty and engagement.
“While the pizza toppings might change in different countries, the look and feel of our brand is global. If you order a Pizza Hut in Canada you’ll find a poutine pizza available, while in India, our Paneer Soya Supreme is a popular option,” says Borda. “Our priority is to stay relevant and that means meeting the needs of our customers wherever they are in the world. In China, we offer a breakfast menu and an afternoon tea menu as these are important meals to gather with family and friends and share food together.”
Adopting local tastes when designing a restaurant’s menu isn’t just a good way to sell more pizzas; it gives the franchise offering a homely feel, even if one location taken in isolation is part of an 18,000-plus network of international units.
“By operating as a franchise business, we are a global brand – but a local business. That structure has become instrumental to Pizza Hut, as it has meant that as we continue to grow and share global learnings, our customers still recognize us as a local business at the center of the community.”
And what better way to feel part of the community than directly investing in and supporting the people that patronize your premises every day? Pizza Hut recognized this recently when the brand donated 250,000 pizzas in the U.K. to NHS staff combating COVID-19 on the frontlines. Sure, this generated some positive PR, but it’s easy to see when a brand is backed by genuine sincerity.
“Core to the success of Pizza Hut is our wonderful team members and franchisees, without which we wouldn’t have the day-to-day intelligence around what our customers want and we wouldn’t have the hard-working, smiling face of the brand our customers know so well,” says Borda. “Their hard work, love of pizza, and total determination to go the extra mile for our customers and the communities in which we operate underpins everything we do.”