Fresh Brothers thinks outside the pizza box for innovation

Fresh Brothers Pizza has been recognized by a variety of entities (including PizzaMarketplace) for a variety of menu innovations. But most of the attention has been focused on the California concept's pizza line — gluten-free crusts, skinny crusts, kids' special sauce (with chopped vegetables), vegan cheese, Matzah Pizza (rolled out for Passover) and more.

But its recent King's Hawaiian Meatball Sliders' launch shows that Fresh Brothers can think outside the pizza box. Founders Adam and Debbie Goldberg wanted to add another appetizer to the menu; one that was portable for busy guests.

"Our kids are crazy about sliders, so we decided to capitalize on that trend by utilizing the products we already had on hand in our kitchens," Debbie said. They focused on Fresh Brothers' Fonanini meatballs, first introduced in 2011, and its signature sauce and cheese.

The one piece missing was the bread. They turned to another Southern California-based company — King's Hawaiian, known for its sweet bread rolls.

"We tried a lot of variations, but found that the slider tasted best on King's Hawaiian Rolls," Debbie said. "The size of the King's Hawaiian Roll visually puts the focus on the meatballs. The delicious, recognizable sweet flavor of the rolls makes them a perfect match."

Fresh Brothers experienced immediate success with the creation. Debbie said higher average ticket sales led to the Meatball Slider's permanent addition to the menu.

King's Hawaiian has also partnered with Arby's this year for that brand's successful roast beef LTO. The supplier just announced it is tripling its U.S. operations as it helps fill demand, driven in part from the current sweet/salty flavor menu trend.

Marketing and growth

Fresh Brothers is also in the middle of an expansion strategy, having recently opened its 10th location, in West Hollywood, Calif. The company has partnered with Michael Greenberg, president and co-founder of Sketchers, to further grow its footprint.

"Michael has had incredible success within the shoe industry. His wealth of knowledge offers Fresh Brothers an incredible amount of support and guidance for the emerging Fresh Brothers brand," Debbie said. "The basis for our involvement with Michael Greenberg has always been about growth."

A new unit is planned in Encino, Calif., in the first quarter of 2014, followed by four more units between Los Angeles and Orange County by the end of next year.

Since adding Greenberg as a strategic partner, Fresh Brothers has added four units and sales have increased year over year. Mature Fresh Brothers' stores have increased in sales by 15 to 20 percent, Debbie said.

Besides securing the right partnerships and menu innovations, marketing initiatives have also helped drive sales growth. For having such a small footprint, Fresh Brothers' marketing muscle matches that of most national chains. For example, it has a kids' club, a fan club, weekly promotions and iPhone and Android app. Fresh Brothers also has a blog and Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, Instagram and Google Plus accounts. Customers can make their delivery orders without leaving the brand's Facebook page.

The brand frequently updates its billboards for special occasions; its Halloween billboard features two pieces of pizza depicted as fangs. Its seasonal tagline is: "This Halloween, our meatballs are going as sliders."

The company also leverages its Hollywood presence by sharing celebrities' posts when applicable: "The lovely and talented Jessica Alba just Instagrammed about Fresh Brothers #glutenfree #pizza. And, Fresh Brothers uses its social media channels to celebrate sporting events, holidays, other concepts' successes and milestones, and to raise funds for a variety of community events.

Read more about food and beverage innovations.

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