Market Force Information has declared CiCi’s Pizza America’s favorite pizza chain in its first study of several thousand consumers’ preferences, finishing just ahead of Papa John’s and Papa Murphy’s Take ‘N’ Bake Pizza.
Boulder, Colo.-based Market Force surveyed 7,600 people in August, asking them to identify their favorite restaurant chains and to rate those favorites’ performance among key attributes like taste, service, cleanliness, atmosphere and overall value. The total number of votes each chain received was divided by that brand’s number of U.S. locations in order to normalize results in a contest among national players and regional pizza chains.
CiCi’s, which has about 550 restaurants in 34 states, garnered 1.7 percent of the indexed favorite vote, Market Force found, compared with 1.4 percent for Papa John’s Pizza and 1.2 percent for Papa Murphy’s.
Nos. 4 and 5, respectively, Sbarro and Pizza Hut, also received at least 1 percent of the indexed vote, while Godfather’s Pizza, Domino’s Pizza and Little Caesars rounded out the results with scores of 0.7 percent, 0.43 percent and 0.41 percent, respectively.
As in previous studies for the hamburger  and Mexican  segments, the largest brands in the study did see their rankings get adjusted downward when their total numbers of favorite votes were indexed by system size. However, Market Force indicated, the number of units for each chain did not fluctuate as severely as for other segments — in the hamburger study, for instance, McDonald’s 14,500-unit system put it at a very large disadvantage over other brands with only several hundred locations.
Based on scores in individual attribute categories, where Market Force tracked the percentage of people rating a chain’s performance as a 5 out of 5, CiCi’s took the top honors for service and atmosphere while finishing second for overall value. Papa Murphy’s finished first in rankings for taste, cleanliness and overall value.
No one attribute stood out as having the most correlation with being named a favorite chain, but an analysis of the overall-value category did reveal some interesting nuances, said Cheryl Flink, senior vice president of business insights and strategy for Market Force. Papa Murphy’s led all chains in that attribute, with 61 percent of respondents rating its overall value a 5 out of 5, while CiCi’s Pizza finished No. 2 with 58 percent.
“CiCi’s comes up as a favorite in every region, and it’s a value player where you can pay $5 and get all you can eat,” Flink said. “Folks tell us all the time that’s where they go with a bunch of hungry boys. But if I’m taking Papa Murphy’s home, I might feel there’s an added value there because that pizza becomes home-cooked.”
Little Caesars finished just behind CiCi's in the category, with 57 percent of respondents rating the chain’s value a 5 out of 5. The Detroit-based chain of more than 2,800 locations has built much of its marketing proposition around the $5 Hot-N-Ready and $8 3-Meat Treat pizzas, which position it as the value player among the four biggest national pizza brands.
There is a large chasm in customer perception of overall value between Little Caesars and the No. 4 brand, Papa John’s, which had 38 percent of people surveyed rating its value a 5 out of 5. Yet Little Caesars finished last in the study’s rankings of favorite pizza chains when indexed by system size.
Market Force’s Flink speculated that the large system size by which Little Caesars’ votes were divided certainly played into its tumble down the overall rankings, but she also speculated on whether a factor outside the study’s attribute scores was in play. “Maybe it’s brand awareness or a play around something we just haven’t picked up on,” she said. “Perhaps it’s menu selection. If consumers felt they didn’t have good variety, that could cause a fluctuation down for Little Caesars.”
Menu variety might explain why Sbarro performed better in the indexed rankings, since the 1,013-unit brand finished fourth in the overall rankings with 1.14 percent of the indexed vote despite ranking last in each of the five attribute categories in the study. “There’s probably something consumers think about Sbarro that we’re not picking up on,” Flink noted. “They have pizza, salads, pasta, and other entrees and desserts. The value proposition is different, and it might have more appeal to more people.”
Market Force said its 7,600 survey respondents covered several income levels, with half that sample reporting household incomes of more than $50,000 per year. One-quarter of respondents were men and 75 percent were women, and Flink noted that the female-heavy skew reflects the fact that women make a majority of the food purchasing decisions for households. Half the respondents had children, and more than two-thirds were married, while 73 percent of respondents worked full- or part-time.