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Five Pizza Chains On The Rise

by 
Bracha Arnold
 on 
December 19, 2023
Five Pizza Chains On The Rise

Few foods boast the universal appeal that pizza has. Kids, adults, Ninja Turtles, and almost everyone in between enjoy a good slice of hot (or cold) pizza. And the country has thousands of options for the Italian dish – from massive, thousand-unit chains to everyday neighborhood joints and everything in between. We took a look at five regional pizza brands to see how they are standing out in a crowded kitchen.

  1. Pizza Guys: California Cravings

Pizza Guys was founded in Sacramento, CA, in 1986 and has since grown to over 80 locations, many of which are franchise-owned and operated. Most of the company’s pizza parlors are located in California, though the chain also boasts several stores in Nevada, Oregon, and Texas. And continuing the trend of California dining chains moving to the Lone Star State, Pizza Guys recently announced plans to expand dramatically in Dallas, San Antonio, Austin, and Houston in addition to the new stores planned in its home state of California and neighboring Nevada.

Diving into the visitation metrics for the chain reveals that the company’s expansion has already had an impact on visits. Between July and November 2023, the chain experienced 9.3% to 18.7% more monthly visits than in 2022. The average number of visits to each Pizza Guys location also increased year over year (YoY) – suggesting a growing demand for the chain’s signature curly pepperoni pies. With the pace of openings only slated to pick up, Pizza Guys hopes to maintain its momentum and continue to drive visits. 

  1. Mountain Mikes: Family-Friendly Fare

Mountain Mike’s Pizza, another California chain, has been slinging pies since 1978. The chain has since grown to around 300 locations on the West Coast with more in the works, including a recent 10-unit agreement in Washington. 

Mountain Mikes has positioned itself as a family destination, offering perks like arcades and lunch pizza buffet deals. Using the Experian: Mosaic dataset to examine the demographics of Mountain Mike’s visitors reveals that this appeal to families with kids is working.

The share of consumers falling under the “Family Union” – or middle-income families – segment in Mountain Mike’s captured market exceeded their share in the company’s potential market. (A business’ potential market refers to its trade area, with each census block in the trade area weighted according to the size of its population. On the other hand, a business’s captured market refers to the trade area with each census block weighted according to its share of visits to the chain or venue in question). 

Meanwhile, the share of “Singles and Starters” – young adults living in the city – in Mountain Mike’s captured market was lower than their share in the company’s potential market. In other words, families appear to be overrepresented and young, single consumers appear to be underrepresented among Mountain Mike’s visitor base – as befits a family-focused dining destination.

  1. Ohio Is For Loyalty: Donatos Pizza

Jim Grote founded Donatos Pizza over 60 years ago, purchasing a small Columbus, Ohio, pizza shop for just $1,300. The chain has since grown to nearly 200 restaurants in the Ohio area, with each location boasting an average unit volume (AUV) of over $1 million. The company is hoping to bring this strength into new markets and recently signed a franchise agreement that would add new stores in Kentucky and Florida.

Donatos enjoys strong visits in its home state, with its YoY visits in Ohio up for all months analyzed – but it really shines in its nationwide visits. In all months analyzed, nationwide visits outpaced Ohio visits.

While some of Donatos' YoY strength may be attributed to the stores the company has added over the past few years, visitor loyalty which ticked up slightly YoY, may also play a part. The share of visitors coming to a chain more than once grew from 19.9% in 2022 to 21.1% in 2023. This suggests that not only are people willing to give new Donatos locations a try – they’re also coming back for more, a promising sign as the chain expands.  

  1. Pizza Factory: A Slice Above The Competition

Another California native enjoying strong visits is Pizza Factory. The chain, established 30 years ago in Oakhurst, California, operates the majority of its 100-plus store fleet on the West Coast. In June 2022, Pizza Factory opened the first of its East Coast locations in Athens, Georgia, and is eyeing more expansion outside of its traditional markets.

Pizza Factory has seen its monthly visits outpacing those of the wider pizza segment in all months analyzed, with its November 2023 visits up by 6.7% compared to the same month last year. The overall pizza segment, meanwhile, saw visits drop slightly YoY. Pizza Factory’s strength in the face of wider industry challenges bodes well for the chain as it begins its journey to the East Coast. 

  1. Marco's Pizza Brings The Heat

Marco’s Pizza is spreading its wings. The Ohio-based chain, which boasts over 1,100 units, also has over 200 locations in development. Marco’s has identified over 4,200 potential locations across the country, which would put this chain squarely in the major pizza player category alongside household names like Pizza Hut (nearly 7,000 units) or Domino’s (6,500 units).

Marco’s began ramping up its expansion efforts several years ago with a focus on the south and southwest of the country. Examining monthly visits reveals that there is plenty of demand in that region – while visits to the chain have been elevated nationwide, several southern states are seeing significantly higher visitation patterns. The chain performed especially well in Texas, Utah, and Arkansas, which saw YoY visit growth of 6.9%, 38.3%, and 14.6%, respectively, in November 2023. As Marco’s continues its expansion, focusing efforts on these markets may prove a winning strategy for the brand.

Knead To Know About That Dough

Breakfast, lunch, dinner, and everything in between – there’s always room for a slice of pizza – and a new pizza chain. As these regional (or in the case of Marco’s, national) chains open more stores and grow their presence across the country, will hungry diners continue to stop in for a pie? 

Visit placer.ai/blog to find out. 

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