Pushing pizza toppings is part and parcel to Richard Weil's livelihood. It's a sales strategy responsible for 25-percent guest check sales increases at Lone Tree, Colo.-based
 
Nick-N-Willy's World Famous Take-N-Bake Pizza. Weil is chief executive of the 65-unit chain.
 
"Upselling toppings is a great way for operators to increase their sales and their income," said Liz Hertz, marketing manager for Burke Corp.
 
This is especially true for toppings that are unique to a particular pizzeria. Every operator's sausage becomes a special topping when made with a house spice blend. Combine top-shelf ingredients to create a specialty pizza, and operators have an instant premium menu item to upsell.
 
"We specialize in pushing our signature pizzas, upselling those over the build-your-own," said Weil. "Upselling toppings on our signature pizzas — mostly veggies — is very important for our success. And these aren't your average veggie pizzas — for toppings we use premium ingredients, such as marinated artichokes, fresh cilantro and basil."
 
Upselling is incentive enough for the take-and-bake concept to promote its combo-pizza offerings all day, every day, at sampling stations near the cash register. The result: Over half the overall pizza sales are comprised of signature pizzas.
 
"There's a premium to be charged for premium menu items," Hertz said. "Not only can you charge more because it's a special item, but you can actually have a larger-percent mark-up. It's not only higher sales, but profitability increases."
 
The Alexandria, Va., market is a pepperoni, sausage and mushroom market, according to Jose Lima, general manager of a Papa John's there. Upselling those toppings are relatively easy to do as add-on toppings, resulting in ticket sales increases of 10 percent.
 
Although Kenneth Cooper, Pizza Inn franchisee in Wiggins, Miss., ranks upselling toppings second to upselling side items, such as breadsticks, "because most people know what toppings they want," he notes that new toppings should always be pushed.
 
"For instance, we're upselling a new Beef Fajita pizza, which came out this month," Cooper said.
 
New-topping shopping dovetails with Burke's mission to target customers seeking new and interesting items. Burke recently introduced four fully cooked meat products in its NaturaSelect lineup, which includes minimally processed foods with no artificial ingredients. The niche offerings are geared for consumers of all-natural and organic foods.
 
"Most of your clientele are going to come in and order their favorites," Hertz said. "But there's definitely a growing segment in the population that wants to try new things. When they come in, the first thing they look for is what's new or what's interesting. There's a significant share of customers who first look to the part of the menu that features a specialty of the house or something that's new."
 
Hertz suggests not only charging a premium for such items, but positioning them as premium products. Positioning can be as simple as cleverly combining certain toppings and creating a fun name for the new pie.
To determine which toppings or combos are good bets for upselling potential, operators should study their current product mix. Using already popular toppings in various combinations will likely result in a good response.
 
"Operators can also look at some of the general foodservice trends," Hertz said. "What are the trendy new flavor profiles? Is it Thai, or is it Greek? Then experiment."

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