The term “better pizza” is used a lot lately. Consumers are craving it and brands want to supply it. With more than 65,000 pizza franchises throughout the country—all vying to be the go-to purveyors of this popular Italian-American staple—the competition is nothing short of dizzying. But with the help of their commitment to continuous innovation and unwavering quality, one brand in particular has fought its way to the forefront of the pack—Toppers Pizza.
For Toppers, the oft-used labels of quick service and fast casual are just semantics. When Scott Gittrich first founded the Wisconsin-based chain nearly 30 years ago, he wanted his restaurant to be different. He wanted to completely change the landscape of the competitive industry—which, at that point, was dominated by four major chains (Domino’s, Papa John’s,Pizza Hut and Little Caesar’s). But Gittrich saw a great shift occurring within this $40 billion industry. While most of these chains were racing to be the best low-cost provider of all things pizza to all people everywhere, there was an unmet need for people who wanted something more than cheap, homogeneous delivery. Gittrich believed that high-quality and quick-delivery could exist symbiotically, and Toppers was ready to blaze the trail.
“The Domino’s and the Pizza Huts currently control the majority of pizza sales in the U.S. But the problem is they have very little innovation in terms of pizza and quality ingredients. They’re very much the same now as they’ve been decades ago,” said Scott Iversen, vice president of marketing for Toppers. “But our heritage is different. We started out as a brand that wants to create better pizza while delivering it at the same speed—if not quicker—as the other major national chains. We use fresh dough and we have fresh ingredients—you’re not going to find that on the big chains’ menus.”
Today, Toppers has carved out its own niche. The brand is taking the quality ingredients and innovative concepts often seen in the fast-casual world and offering it to their customers through the delivery segment. Delivery currently dominates a majority of the industry, and Iversen believes that no other brand is making a conscious effort to steal that market share away from the brands already on top. And so far, this plan of attack is working. In 2015, 73% of all stores boasted record sales, boosting overall system-wide sales up 22.5% from 2014. That impressive growth led to the brand to be ranked second on the PMQ/Technomic 2015 Pizza Power Report of sales percentage increases of the top 50 chains, with Papa John’s, Domino’s and Pizza Hut not even cracking the top five.
“Those brands are so established already that you kind of know what you’re going to get—it’s what the big chains have always represented, and it’ll be hard for them to ever change. They’re built on traditional, quick delivery pizza,” Iversen said. “But then Toppers shows up in their market. We decide to compete and steal their market share by offering what they don’t have. We do this by taking the high quality approach. That’s who we’ve always been—we’ve never tried to be something we’re not just to get ahead. And we think we’re beating the big chains because of it.”
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