Placer.ai Spotlight: Pizza Players

Whether it’s a meal for one or a pie to share, pizza is a staple of the restaurant landscape. We dove into the visit data for four restaurant chains doing exciting things in the pizza category – Taco Bell, Papa John’s Pizza, Pizza Hut, and Pizza Inn – and took a closer look at changes that are driving visits. While the visit metrics don’t fully capture drive-thru, takeaway, or deliveries, the data can still provide a sense of visitation trends in the pizza space. 

Taco Bell’s Mexican Pizza is Back…Again

Though not your classic pizzeria, Taco Bell has been home to the Mexican Pizza since 1985. The chain dropped the Mexican Pizza from its menu in 2020, but a consumer-driven campaign finally compelled Taco Bell to reintroduce the cult favorite in May of this year. 

The return of the Mexican Pizza in May 2022 saw visits to Taco Bell spike. However, due to widespread popularity, Taco Bell ran out of ingredients, and the Mexican Pizza was again discontinued within weeks. 

On September 15th, 2022 Taco Bell relaunched the Mexican Pizza for a second time and year-over-year (YoY) weekly visits to the chain grew by 6.1%. Since the Mexican Pizza relaunch, Taco Bell has sustained weekly YoY foot traffic growth. The chain has also outperformed weekly YoY visits for the QSR industry nearly every week – excluding the week of October 3rd when the release of McDonald’s adult Happy Meal skewed the industry average. 

Papa John’s: Thinking Outside the Circle

While sticking to traditional pizza flavors, Papa John’s Pizza continues to introduce innovative pizza concepts. On August 22nd, 2022, the chain unveiled Papa Bowls, its first ever crustless menu item. The following week, and just in time for the start of the football season, the Football Pizza was released to add a twist to fans’ favorite game day food. 

YoY comparisons of Papa John’s showed relatively minor visit gaps, which had more to do with the comparison to strong foot traffic trends of 2021, rather than any major headwinds in 2022. The true picture of Papa John’s foot traffic comes into focus through year-over-three-year (Yo3Y) comparison. Yo3Y weekly visits were up nearly every week in August through the week of October 17th, 2022, demonstrating the success of the chain since 2019. 

Pizza Hut in the Fast Lane

Not changing the physical shape of its pies – or leaving off the crust – Pizza Hut has shape-shifted its carryout models. In the early weeks of the pandemic, Pizza Hut was the first national pizza brand to offer curbside pick-up for online orders. In March 2021, as demand for fast and frictionless carryout grew, Pizza Hut transformed its drive-thrus and unveiled “The Hut Lane” – a dedicated digital order pick-up window. According to Kevin Hochman, Pizza Hut’s U.S. President at the time, “The Hut Lane” combined the convenience of contactless carryout with the speed of a drive-thru. 

While the visit metrics don’t fully capture drive-thrus, location analytics shows that Pizza Hut innovations like “The Hut Lane” continue to drive visits to the chain. Foot traffic data since August 2022 reveals that Pizza Hut has sustained YoY visit growth since the week of September 19th, 2022 while also growing visits week-over-week (WoW). 

Pizza Inn: Come and Stay A While

Though takeout is a popular option in the pizza space, Dallas, TX-based Pizza Inn has doubled down on the dine-in experience. In 2021, for the first time in nearly a quarter-century, the brand expanded its buffet locations. According to Brandon Solano, CEO of parent company RAVE Restaurant Group, Pizza Inn is focusing on its buffet and providing an incredible dine-in experience that customers are hungry for post-pandemic. 

Visit data indicates that Pizza Inn’s strategy is driving more brick-and-mortar visits to the chain. Weekly visits to Pizza Inn grew YoY in August through the week of October 17th, 2022 and outperformed the fast casual restaurant category average each week. 

Pizza’s Prowess

Any way you slice it, pizza is a pillar of the restaurant category and is constantly undergoing transformations. Many brands have reinvented their brick-and-mortar locations and their menus in ways that highlight the power of pizza for sustained visit growth. 

For updates and more data-driven retail insights, visit Placer.ai

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