Certain categories in the restaurant industry have struggled in 2017, with Bloomberg reporting earlier in the year that same-store sales fell by more than 1 percent across the chain restaurant industry. However, one segment of the restaurant industry continues to see success where others are faltering: pizza. In fact, according to research firm Technomic’s 2016 Pizza Consumer Trend Report, pizza consumption was actually higher in 2016 than at any other point over the last four years.
Mike McLaughlin, franchisee with Toppers Pizza in Virginia, knows a thing or two about the pizza segment, having spent more than 20 years of his career with Domino’s and Papa John’s before making the transition to Five Guys for the past 12 years. McLaughlin says that the draw of pizza is still there, and that is why he decided to make his return to the pizza business now with Toppers.
“The pizza segment is so strong still, and it was time to diversify and get involved with another brand,” said McLaughlin. “When I made the decision to get back into pizza, I looked around for a few years. When I looked at Toppers and what they are doing with innovation in technology, online ordering and the quality of the product, I knew it was the right choice.”
McLaughlin also says that the ability that national pizza players, including Toppers, have to offer compelling deals and great pricing is a big factor in why pizza is still succeeding.
“Food cost pressures aren’t as much of an issue in the pizza business as in other restaurant segments,” said McLaughlin. “For example, the chicken market is all over the place and causes chicken-focused places to have instability. We aren’t at the mercy of food price changes as much in the pizza industry - cheese prices are fairly stable.”
Kendall Richmond, Chief Financial Officer for Toppers Pizza, agrees that providing proper value and embracing technology will keep Toppers in front of the competition, even as the entire restaurant industry continues to evolve quickly.
“We are in a period now of complete disruption,” said Richmond. “Third party delivery is entering our segment. Overall there is lots of economic uncertainty. Minimum wage is going up and making things tougher.”
To combat these challenges, Toppers is focusing heavily on technology and making it as easy as possible for customers to order their product how they want it and when they want it.
“Friction makes you lose that customer, patience is going down,” said Richmond. “So that technology component, along with our pricing strategy of not nickel and diming the customer, is really paying off.”
Richmond refers to Toppers’ Straight-Up Pricing, where any pizza of more than two toppings costs the same, allowing guests a high level of customization while keeping the value element in place.
Both McLaughlin and Richmond agree: times are tough for restaurants, but pizza is still a strong player, as long as a brand focuses on giving customers what they want and evolving ahead of the marketplace.
“This downturn in restaurants is not a natural ebb and flow,” said Richmond. “You have to have a great value equation for the customer, and if not you are going to miss. We have to deliver on our brand promise.”
And for McLaughlin, Toppers Pizza is doing just that: delivering a great product, technology package, and value proposition for customers and franchise partners alike.
Said McLaughlin, “I really enjoyed the product and I saw the tools we have at our disposal to compete with anyone in the pizza industry. Pizza is here to stay, and so is Toppers.”