Jan. 7, 2009
As is customary at this time of the year, Pizza Marketplace takes a brief look back at the year that was.
It was a roller-coaster year for pizzeria operators. Just as things looked like they were settling down, the economy went into the tank.
Here are our picks for the top stories of 2008:
Block cheese prices on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange hit a high of $2.30 per pound in June, substantially higher than they were at the beginning of 2007 when they averaged about $1.30 per pound.
Wheat prices also jumped, with some operators reporting that the price of a bag of flour had tripled by summer. Adding to the price pressure was the rising cost of gasoline, which prompted vendors to add fuel surcharges to their invoices. Operators also saw a hike in the minimum wage.
Despite the increased pressure, though, operators resisted compromising quality.
"If we scaled back, the customers would know," Moutasem Atiya, who operates Kyro Pizza in Baltimore, told Pizza Marketplace earlier this year. "We are biting the bullet and hoping that prices start to go down." By then end of the year, prices had fallen just as dramatically. Cheese had dropped to as low as $1.19 per pound by the end of the year, and gas prices saw a similar decline.
More than 550 people in 32 states sickened, and 50-plus hospitalized. More than $100 million in losses to the tomato industry. Operators around the country pulled tomatoes from their menu becuae of a salmonella outbreak originally linked to tomatoes
The three largest pizza chains, Pizza Hut, Papa John's and Domino's, all posted notices on their Web sites advising customers that the cooked tomatoes in pizza sauce weren't implicated in the salmonella scare. Pizza Hut and Domino's temporarily removed fresh tomato products from their menus, while Papa John's advised customers that none of its menu items included uncooked tomatoes. Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based Pizza Fusion, which markets itself as an organic pizza chain, temporarily removed organic tomatoes from its menu, although it later added them back.
The Food and Drug Administration investigation never linked the strain to tomatoes but did find traces of the strain on jalapeno and Serrano peppers grown in Mexico. The outbreak ended with no definitive conclusion.
Papa John's president and chief executive officer Nigel Travis surprised the industry by resigning in December. Travis took over as Papa John's CEO in 2005.
Dunkin' Brands announced several days later that Travis would take the CEO spot with that chain. Papa John's founder John Schnatter will serve as interim CEO while the company's board searches for a permanent successor.
To call attention to its new Tuscani Pasta line, Pizza Hut "rebranded" itself as Pasta Hut on April Fools Day.
Initial indications are that pasta is a hit for Pizza Hut. The company said it sold 2 million pans of Tuscani Pasta during the first month, making it one of the most successful product launches in the company's 50-year history. Pizza Hut's pasta offerings are one component of a strategy to move beyond simply selling pizza to offering "home meal replacement." Brian Niccol, Pizza Hut's chief marketing officer, told USA
Today that Tuscani Pasta could comprise 15 percent of Pizza Hut's business within a year, without cutting into pizza sales.
At least one other pizza chain is taking notice. No. 2 Domino's is testing four new pasta dishes in Southern California and several other markets.
One of the most bizarre events in the annals of pizza history came to at least partial closure in 2008. On Dec. 4, Kenneth Barnes was sentenced to 45 years in federal prison for his role in a bank robbery where a pizza delivery driver was killed.
Barnes and co-conspirator Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong were indicted in 2007 on bank robbery, conspiracy and firearms charges in the August 2003 robbery that left pizza deliveryman Brian Wells dead after the collar bomb he was wearing exploded.
Deihl-Armstrong is slated to undergo a hearing in January to determine whether she is mentally competent to stand trial. Before he was killed, Wells told police he was forced to rob the bank by three men who attached the bomb to his neck. Police later said that Wells was a participant in the robbery scheme, although his family continues to dispute those findings.