Papa John's says its new pizza solves customers' top complaint with the menu

Papa John’s is finally serving a kind of pizza that customers have been demanding for years.

Last week, the pizza chain debuted a new pan pizza, something the company is calling its biggest launch in more than a decade.

“We used to get questions all the time, from consumers to operators to franchisees… ‘Why don’t you have pan?'” Papa John’s chief ingredient officer Sean Muldoon told Business Insider. “With our launch we think we’re going to bring in new consumers who are heavy pan lovers.”

Muldoon says that it took Papa John’s a year and a half to develop a pan pizza that fit the “cheesy, buttery, crispy” taste profile it wanted to achieve. Some locations needed to install new technology, in order to allow for pan pizza’s adjusted preparation methods.

“One of the reasons we haven’t had pan in the past is pan crust is thicker and hardier,” says Muldoon. “It takes longer to bake.”

According to Muldoon, who joined Papa John’s in 1999, pan pizza is the chain’s biggest launch since he joined the company. With the launch, Papa John’s hopes to draw in new customers who exclusively eat pan pizza, which is currently on the menu at chains such a Domino’s and Little Caesars.

“Our competitors have been doing pan for years and years and years,” says Muldoon. “Some people cross over [and order different types of pizza], but there is that niche.”

In pan pizza tests, Papa John’s reports that the new type of pie has brought in a significant number of new customers, who Muldoon says were primarily ordering at competitors in the past.

Papa John’s is hoping to distinguish its pan pizza from the competition by highlighting quality, with the company’s move towards a “clean” menu with fewer artificial ingredients. By launching pan pizza in October, Papa John’s has a major marketing opportunity, thanks to the chain’s extensive NFL partnerships.

Ultimately, however, the success of Papa John’s pan pizza depends on winning over pan pizza loyalists looking for something that, until now, they couldn’t find at the chain. The perfect pan pizza requires a seared edge, which Papa John’s calls the “cheese ring,” and a thick, fluffy center. It’s a flavour that is distinct from Papa John’s traditional hand-tossed pizza crust, and one that has the potential to make up a significant portion of sales down the road.

Pan pizza is already accounting for a double-digit percentage of sales in test markets, a similar proportion to thin-crust pizza. Soon, Papa John’s hopes that the new style of pizza will make up more than 10% of sales at locations across the US.

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