Papa John’s International Inc. has used the tagline “Better Ingredients. Better Pizza.” for nearly 20 years. But as more restaurants shift to all-natural ingredients, the pizza chain has decided to intensify its messaging around that idea.
The Louisville, Ky.-based company recently launched a series of national ads, including a 60-second spot, that highlight its commitment to “clean ingredients,” or ingredients with fewer additives.
The ads come after an open letter to customers published earlier this summer as a full-page ad in USA Today by Papa John’s founder, CEO and primary spokesman John Schnatter, committing to a menu featuring ingredients with fewer additives.
Papa John’s also vowed to remove 14 more “unwanted ingredients” from its food supply by the end of next year, and launched a website that compares its ingredients with those of fast-casual chains Panera Bread and Chipotle Mexican Grill, which have also touted the quality of its ingredients. Early this year, Papa John’s revamped its website to list the ingredients in its pizza, with a rollover feature that informs customers about the role those additives play.
“You can’t make good wine from bad grapes, and the same applies to pizza,” Schnatter said in a statement. “For over 30 years, Papa John’s has remained committed to quality, using better ingredients long before it became an industry trend. Today, Papa John’s has one of the cleanest ingredient labels among the top national pizza brands. And our ingredients compare very favorably to the likes of Chipotle and Panera Bread.”
Papa John’s latest effort doesn’t replace its existing ad campaign, which stars athletes such as professional football player Peyton Manning alongside Schnatter as they tout the chain’s traditional pizza offerings and “better ingredients.”
Those ads have worked well for Papa John’s, which has reported 19 straight quarters of domestic same-store sales growth, including 5.5-percent growth in its most recent second quarter. Those ads will continue, said Bob Kraut, Papa John’s senior vice president and global chief marketing officer.
“We’re definitely not changing our message; we’re just adding to it,” Kraut said. “We’ve been dedicated to quality for a long time. What’s changed is our desire to communicate more directly and more strongly.”
“This is not a matter of changing habits or perceptions,” he added. “It’s about reminding people about what they know about our brand and what they love about our brand.”
Restaurant chains have been taking a harder look at their ingredients in recent years, especially as concepts like Chipotle have successfully marketed their ingredients as more natural. Consumers, pushed by concerns about some ingredients, have demanded such efforts.
“If you’re in the food business, it’s the right thing to do,” Kraut said. “We’re a large brand. We serve a lot of people. We have a responsibility to serve good food and let people know what they’re eating.”
Papa John’s was founded on the quality of its pizza, Kraut said, and the company needs to remind people of that focus and give customers the ingredients with fewer additives they demand.
“The time is right to bring this into sharp focus,” Kraut said. “That’s what people want. What we’re doing is putting a mirror up to what the company stands for, and projecting that to customers. We’re one of the few brands well positioned to do that, because we’ve been doing it a long time.”
The ads also appeal to families, Kraut said. In the spots, Schnatter vows to serve higher-quality pizza with fewer additives, giving the chain credibility with parents.
“If you have children, chances are if you ask them their favorite food, pizza is at the top of the list,” Kraut said. “Because they eat so much of it, parents want to know what is in it.
“John is not going to put anything into this pizza that he wouldn’t feed to his kids, or his grandkids, or anybody else’s kids for that matter.”
In the process, Papa John’s has noted that high-quality pizza toppings don’t always come cheap.
During the company’s second-quarter earnings call last week, Schnatter began by noting that Papa John’s insisted on using higher-quality ingredients despite the cost.
“Years ago, we made it our mission, and I made it my commitment, that we would make the best pizza with the best ingredients, even though it would cost us more,” Schnatter said. “Consumers have recognized the higher standards and rewarded our efforts with their loyalty.”