Over the last six years, the fast casual pizza segment has seen explosive growth, led by LeBron James-backed Blaze Pizza. In fact, in 2015, three of the five fastest growing restaurant chains in the Technomic Top 500 Chain Restaurants Report were fast casual pizza brands. But recently, the growth of this red-hot industry has reduced to a sizzle.
According to a story called “Is Fast-Casual Pizza Dead?” in the Motley Fool, “...the larger trend [of fast casual pizza] seems to have run its course, and we may see more than a few fall by the wayside. Fast-casual pizza might not be dead, but like cheese stuck to the top of a pizza box, the niche no longer looks very appetizing.”
With Pie Five, one fast casual pizza’s early standouts, reporting a decline in sales earlier this year, this could mean the beginning of the end. However, as the fast casual pizza industry simmers, Toppers Pizza is hitting its stride, with its 80th unit set to open this year and a strategic plan to hit 200 units by 2022 announced at the brand’s annual conference in June.
“We’ve been in business since 1991 and while we’ve evolved and improved in many ways over the years, Toppers Pizza is still the same brand focused on serving hot and delicious pizza and Topperstix to our loyal and hungry customers -- fast,” said Scott Iversen, Vice President of Marketing for Toppers Pizza. “We’re not a flash-in-the-pan brand. We’re a proven concept that has grown steadily by partnering with the right franchisees in the right markets at the right pace.”
The fast casual pizza segment can’t say the same. The segment’s rapid growth has inflated franchisee expectations due to over-hyped and exaggerated AUVs during the sales process. But with Toppers Pizza, what you see is what you get - and what you get is a 25 year-old brand that has captured the loyalty of its target audience and proven that strategic and steady growth is the name of the game. Plus, compelling AUVs, territory availability, a cult-like fan base and an unbeatable brand culture make Toppers Pizza a standout in the pizza segment.
Fast casual brands like Pie Five are in a downturn, with 15.8 percent decrease in same store sales in the second quarter of 2017, in addition to closing stores in Illinois, Minneapolis and Colorado.
“The presence of the fast casual brands has only enhanced Toppers’ growth because they’ve helped to educate the world on the importance of quality toppings and customization,” said Scott Iversen, vice president of marketing for Toppers Pizza. “Unfortunately for them, they’re playing in a space that targets a lunch crowd, but the majority of the pizza business is done at dinner time. Plus, fast casual pizza brands often focus on the toppings -- and we’ve been doing that for 25 years -- and doing it better.”
Toppers Pizza recently launched Straight Up Pricing, which allows pizza fanatics to order as many toppings as they want for one flat price. Later this year, Toppers Pizza will unveil its new store prototype that features a show kitchen - a true mark of transparency and a nod to what makes fast casual pizza appealing to its millennial target audience.
“To win the pizza wars, brands have to be focused on giving customers exactly what they want -- bold flavors, transparency and the option to customize their food exactly how they want it,” said Mark Cairns, director of franchise development for Toppers Pizza. “At Toppers, we’ve taken some of the elements of fast casual that resonate with customers and implemented them in our stores. Though other brands continue to pop up and try to steal a piece of the pie, the pizza delivery segment has remained the shiny darling -- and we’re not going anywhere.”