Domino's changes pizza recipe; consultants weigh in

Dec. 15, 2009 | by Jennifer Litz
Domino's Pizza is changing its core pizza recipe by the end of this year, which also happens to be its 50th anniversary. The company's new hand-tossed pizza has been reinvented "to deliver more taste," according to the brand. Industry restaurant consultants, however, have a few words for its leaders, in the unlikely case its CEOs are too pie-eyed about the changes to proceed soberly.
The new pizza will be in all U.S. stores beginning December 27.
"We listened to what people were saying about us through traditional research measures and through a variety of social media channels, and were inspired to create an all-new hand-tossed pizza," said Tim McIntyre, Domino's spokesperson. "Our research showed us that the new hand-tossed pizza is significantly improved over our current hand-tossed pizza (25 percent) in purchase intent and over our main competitors.
"We've been reinventing our brand for the past 18 months, with Oven Baked Sandwiches, Domino's American Legends, Breadbowl Pasta and Chocolate Lava Crunch Cakes. Essentially, 80 percent of our menu items are new since 2008. With this improvement to our core product, we are rebuilding the Domino's brand, as we head into our 50th year. Advertising, which was shot documentary style using real Domino's team members, begins Dec. 28." 
Primary changes include a garlic-seasoned crust with parsley baked to a golden brown; a bolder tomato sauce with a medley of herbs and a red pepper kick; and shredded cheese made with 100 percent real mozzarella and flavored with just a hint of provolone, according to the company.
"It's a completely new pizza reinvented from the crust up, and we are proud of it," said Russell Weiner, Domino's chief marketing officer.  "To us, it's as big as McDonald's changing the Big Mac, or Burger King reinventing the Whopper. We spent the last 18 months reinventing the brand in anticipation of our 50th anniversary."
The company tested "dozens of cheeses" and nearly "50 crust seasoning blends, and searched every possible combination with customers who order from us all the time and customers who haven't tried us in years," the company's press release said.
Domino's Pizza aggressive marketing efforts for the new pizza over the next several weeks will include "advertising on many top-rated entertainment and sports programs, sampling opportunities throughout the country and a strong Web-based presence," Weiner said.
The special introductory offer will be two medium, two-topping pizzas for $5.99 each.
Advertising will include documentary-style anecdotes featuring real Domino's Pizza team members. The spots, filmed at Domino's World Resource Center in Ann Arbor, Mich., will show how the company took on the challenge of changing the negative perceptions of some consumers nationwide.
That's good, because many restaurant consultants say the change won't be "easy as pie." In fact, most regard the change with a mixed bag of admiration and caveats.
Robert Ancill, CEO of the Next Idea, said the company should proceed with caution, citing past recipe-change blunders from both Cadbury and Coca-Cola. Those retail brands aren't restaurants of course, but do have about the same loyalty and name recognition as the juggernaut pizza provider.
"Coke brought back its old recipe as sales took a massive hit," he said "Cadbury changed their recipe 'for the better,' reducing the cocoa butter and adding more palm oil to reduce the speed of melting. The story here ended with Cadbury reverting to its original recipe and doing a lot of brand repair!"
As for the taste profile, Ancill believes the move to 100 percent mozzarella will appeal to people's love of more "honest" food.  The garlic crust is a riskier move. "Consumers either like (garlic) or they don't," he said.
He said the company can probably smooth the change over by communicating about it with customers through social media and advertising.
Other consultants agreed on the pivotal role Domino's advertising  will have on the product's success.
"How they market and introduce the new pizza will determine their success," said Dean Small, managing partner of Synergy Restaurant Consultants. "If there is a no-risk proposition, they will get huge trial and hopefully will exceed their customers' expectations, and any loss of loyal customers will be offset by new customers. 
"In the case of Coca-Cola, it was a huge blessing as Coke ultimately ended up with a product line extension and took market share away from Pepsi. The same could hold true for Domino's."
National Restaurant Consultants' CEO Kevin Moll recommended testimonials as the best way forward.
"Relative to their advertising, a picture is worth a thousand words, and nothing sells like testimonials," Moll said. "I would recommend that the firm post ‘live' interviews of real guests eating the pizza for the first time. These ads should run starting on the same day as the launch. Just like the opening of a new restaurant, the first few days of business can make or break a business — or a new product."
"I applaud this gutsy move and wish them all the best! The launch timing could not be better — just before the biggest day in the pizza business, the Super Bowl."

Topics: Domino's Pizza

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