Saturday, 26 April 2008

Kiwi Pizza Feels the Pinch as Raw Cost Increases Start to Bite

The BBQ swirl has gone, the cheese is dwindling and chicken pizzas are disappearing - are New Zealand's favourite pizza companies skimping on their toppings?

The nation's three leading chains have indeed cut ingredients but claim different reasons for the change as one of the most cut-throat food markets gets even tougher.

Rising food prices have forced Hell to reduce the amount of cheese it uses while Domino's Pizza has reduced the size of its base.

Market leader Pizza Hut has dropped some items - including the BBQ sauce swirl - in a bid, it says, to standardise its menu internationally. The changes are another twist in a hugely competitive market.

Russel Creedy, chief executive of Pizza Hut owner Restaurant Brands, told the Herald on Sunday that the increase in the number of outlets continued to outstrip population growth.
The price of key ingredients such as cheese and flour are also having a big impact on the industry.

Hell general manager Colin Mellor said the "real pressure" was forcing the company to be "clever" with menus through measures such as cutting back on cheese.

To counteract the rising cost of ingredients, Hell is introducing a new range of classic pizzas from tomorrow. They will have fewer and cheaper toppings, such as pepperoni and cheese, but the same amount of coverage on the slice. "We would always avoid scrimping on toppings, it goes against everything we stand for," Mellor said.

Domino's franchise consultant Ryan Bohm said research showed that Kiwis wanted plenty of toppings on their pizzas. The chain would rather introduce small price rises rather than reduce the amount on each slice.

"We certainly won't be taking any toppings off," he said.

Pizza Hut has ditched its BBQ sauce swirl on all but its BBQ Meatlovers option.

The BBQ swirl was kept on when the company bought the Eagle Boyz chain and incorporated several menu items. Creedy said the sauce was being spread on the base instead of drizzled over the top and rejected any suggestion his firm was trying to cut costs.

Creedy said Pizza Hut had maintained the size and weight of its bases. Oregano, chilli flakes and several chicken options were being pulled from the menu because they weren't big sellers, he said.

Cost-driven or not, Pizza Hut's changes, which came in this month, have left some customers unhappy.

Christie Purcell said her flat usually ordered "create your own" pizzas and were upset they no longer came with BBQ sauce and oregano.

"The woman on the phone just said 'we don't have BBQ sauce any more' and she said we weren't the first to complain about it."

Purcell said the resulting pizza failed to tantalise the tastebuds and her flat would use another firm - even if it meant paying more.

"It was bland, and it just wasn't worth it. I could have found more ingredients in my fridge and we hadn't been shopping for ages."

She and her flatmates could handle a small rise in the price of pizza, but only to preserve the taste.

"Eradicating basic ingredients is ridiculous," she said.

"The most ironic part was that the wording on the box included, and I quote, 'so many toppings; so little time'."


Any move to reduce pizza toppings would leave a bad taste in the mouths of customers.
That's the finding of a blind taste test conducted at the first sitting of the Herald on Sunday's Consumer Court. We assembled a cross-section of readers and asked the panel to rate pizzas from leading chains Pizza Hut, Hell and Domino's, and award-winning gourmet Auckland outlet Al Volo.

The verdict? It's the amount of each topping used, rather than the number of toppings, that makes the best slice. And you get what you pay for, the highest-priced pizzas, from Al Volo and Hell, tying for top spot. Domino's came in third, with Pizza Hut lagging in fourth.

Jurors noted a "greasy" texture and cheap processed taste after trying the pizzas from the three chain stores. Many said Domino's was the cheesiest and three described Pizza Hut's toppings as "tasteless".

Our jurors were all regular pizza eaters, several saying they had noticed changes in their favourite brands over the past year.

Julie Chambers said the quality of former family favourite Hell had deteriorated. "The toppings seem to be disappearing. We've also tried Domino's, but it's less than special."

Matthew Allen also thought Hell had gone downhill. "They've started doing the same kinds as everyone else. It's not much different from Domino's but way more expensive."

Sarah Feners said it was better to buy bases and make your own pizza, or fork out for a slice of woodfired gourmet pizza.

Interior designer Hannah Feners, 25, said all but the Al Volo option were "trying to conform to this ideal of what a pizza should be".

Russel Creedy, chief executive of Pizza Hut owner Restaurant Brands, said PH's poor showing might have been down to a particular pizza. All were handmade and the results were down to the operator of each outlet.

Hell general manager Colin Mellor said the company had expanded rapidly from one Wellington store to 70 franchises and a change in perception could be a "byproduct of success". "We haven't changed our toppings at all. They are still exactly the same as the very early days, and the same amounts."

Domino's is going for a slice of the gourmet market with the launch over the next nine days of a Big Taste menu that gives customers a chance to buy extra toppings for $2.90.

New Zealand Herald

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