Trendy toppings drive new sales

Sept. 19, 2004

Tandoori chicken, crocodile, ground lamb, fresh egg, satay chicken, roasted pumpkin, zucchini, smoked oysters. Are any of these on your toppings menu?

If your operation's in Australia, they all might be.

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Aussie pizza eaters are more experimental when it comes to trendsetting toppings, said Don Meij, CEO and master franchisee for Domino's Pizza Australia. To be sure, the old favorites remain popular in his country, but tasty upstarts are driving new sales Down Under.

"Australians, I believe, have a better developed palate than Americans when it comes to pizza," said Meij, who oversees 290 stores in Australia and New Zealand. "Those flavors ... have grown out of the desire for specialty pizzas, which is something the chains have driven."

Eagle Boys Pizza, a 150-unit chain, recently rolled out two new pizzas: a Greek pie topped with ground lamb and a swirl of tzatziki (yogurt and cucumber) sauce; and "The American," made from ground hamburger, cheddar, onions, pickles and a swirl of brown mustard.

"It's all about having a point of difference," said Tom Potter, founder and managing director of Eagle Boys. "Customers will always buy the basics, but pizzas like these get people thinking about your brand."

When Tony Taylor worked for Godfather's Pizza in the 1970s, he tried to introduce chicken as a new topping. Customers hated it, and for good reason, he said.

"That wasn't a chicken made specifically for pizza," said Taylor, now the northwest regional sales manager for Burke Corp., a toppings manufacturer. "The chicken had no flavor to it, and when it was baked on pizza, it came out dry and rubbery."

In 1995, as chicken toppings were becoming more popular, Taylor encouraged Burke's R&D team to develop one of its own. "We came out with a cut that looked like it was done in the kitchen, not pre-fab, and we put good flavor and moisture into it. It turned out to be one of our best product launches ever."

Full-circle flavors

Burke marketing manager, Liz Hertz, said new toppings do stimulate new sales, but in the end, the tried-and-true flavors remain the most popular with customers.

"People do have more sophisticated tastes than ever, but they're also still looking for the old standbys," Hertz said. "Operators need to fulfill both roles."

In traveling throughout his sales territory, Taylor has tasted toppings such as walnuts, apples and feta cheese. When well done and well marketed, he said he's seen such unique pizzas take off.

"But they don't always know how to pair those toppings, and a lot of independents really don't know how to promote them," he said. "Sometimes a new pizza never gets tried because nobody knew about it."

And there are some pizza toppings that, even if well marketed, are better off kept a secret, Taylor added.

"I once bought a 10-pound box of alligator, thinking it would be good on pizza," he said. "There's still about a pound of it left in the freezer. I don't think it's going anywhere either."

Topics: Operations Management , Pizza Toppings

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