Pizza Hut unveils new 'fast casual' store prototypes

To capitalize on the staggering growth of fast casual concepts, Pizza Hut is testing new concept stores in York, Neb. and Pawtucket, R.I. that feature characteristics that define the segment. The new models are part of the company's "continued push for innovation," according to a news release.

As previously reported, these stores feature pizza by the slice, with slices cut from an 18-inch pizza and sold for $2 to $3. The pizza by the slice products also include new chef-inspired recipes alongside traditional favorites such as cheese or pepperoni, all designed to match consumer demand for portability.

"As the category leader, it's our responsibility and obligation to drive our business forward to meet and exceed the needs of our consumers, and we feel these new assets are one of the many ways we're doing just that," Carrie Walsh, chief marketing officer, Pizza Hut, said in the release. "The dine-in experience is a very important part of our business, and these incredibly fresh, beautiful new locations further advance our desire to provide the best experience possible for our customers. Plus, specifically in the Northeast where by the slice is more prevalent, this concept enables us to enter a competitive environment like that with a very competitive product that we think consumers will love."

Each concept has components driven by market behavior and dining style. For example, the location in York will seat 80-plus, highlighting the dine-in experience, while the location in Pawtucket will have a smaller seating area, accommodating roughly 30 spots. The Pawtucket location is expected to primarily be a delivery and carryout option, with the pizza by the slice experience augmenting business during lunch hours and for on-the-go consumers. Both locations will offer the pizza by the slice "bar."

Additionally, the location in York will include sautéed pasta and made-to-order salad stations to complement the Pizza Hut's signature pizzas. Each restaurant will showcase new ingredients as well.

The new formats also include digital menu boards, deck ovens and an open seating environment.

The move is assumed to be in response to the quickly-growing top-your-own pizza category led by concepts such as Pie Five Pizza Co., Blaze, Uncle Maddio's, PizzaRev, Top That! Pizza and more. Rival Domino's also launched a new store prototype recently, featuring some fast casual characteristics such as flatscreen TVs, to-go items and a pizza theater.

In August, The NPD Group reported that visits to fast casual concepts increased by 9 percent year over year, while total restaurant industry traffic was flat.

"We believe these concepts have broad appeal, and we're bullish on our plans to quickly expand them to additional locations," said Al Litchenburg, chief development officer, Pizza Hut. "We are a company driven to innovate and give customers what they want and a vibrant store experience is atop that list."

Nearly half of all Pizza Hut stores in the U.S. include dine-in and the company experienced 115 net openings in 2013.

Read more about franchising and growth.

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