While Domino’s and Papa Johns often get the largest share of ‘pizza wars’ media analysis, Little Caesars is actually still firmly the third-largest pizza chain in the U.S. and has a lot of long-term development goals in the works. NRN spoke with Little Caesars chief development officer Jeremy Vitaro, who joined the team last year, about the company’s progress in technology innovation, and menu and marketing development. He particularly thinks the company has a real opportunity during these times of economic uncertainty as a more affordable option.
“The value model that we that we bring really differentiates the brand and resonates even more during times of high inflation,” Vitaro said. “The customer is really starting to feel the economic crunch.”
But it takes more than value differentiation to keep the momentum going. Little Caesars is also focused on becoming a leader in the off-premises category, particularly in the drive-thru lane, which is a relatively untapped category for their pizza competitors. In the post-pandemic world, mid-sized and large restaurant chains have turned their attention to food lockers as an off-premises efficiency solution. But Little Caesars has been ahead of the game with the company’s Pizza Portal that they introduced in 2018 that provides a temperature-controlled food locker for pickup orders, as well as self-service mobile pickup, which was introduced in 2017.
“The Pizza Portal continues to be crucial to us in terms of percentage of sales,” Vitaro said. “The customers receive a QR code, come into the stores and are able to open the heated portal, so that has continued to pay dividends for us […] As customers continued to rely more on delivery during the pandemic, I think much of that consumer behavior is sticking.”
Moving forward, Little Caesars hopes to invest more in drive-thru lanes and create a more efficient process for their Hot and Ready model:
“We can be ready to meet the meet the rush and the consumer demands more quickly, but how can we how can we innovate and leverage technologies to make those more quickly? How do we continue to keep innovating from a production perspective?” Vitaro said these are the questions they keep asking.
The big news from Little Caesars came earlier this year with the announcement of the company’s official sponsorship of the NFL: taking the crown away from the number two pizza chain in the country, Pizza Hut. This was a major marketing win for the company, and Vitaro shared some insight into what this means for the brand.
“We were really excited about the NFL, and they’re definitely an attractive partner for us,” he said. “It has a fanbase of more than 100 million people which allows us to connect with so many customers that maybe we wouldn’t have previously been able to reach. […] We’re going to keep evolving and figuring out what how to best to maximize the partnership but we're doing in-game promotions as well. From a development perspective, it’s been fantastic for attracting new franchisee candidates to the brand, to just really see how large we are.”
As development officer, Vitaro is focused on expanding the brand, and moving forward Little Caesars wants to expand its presence in new markets like the Northeast, where there is a lot of whitespace.
“We have a really scalable, high-transaction, efficient model,” he said. “I think that’s made it really attractive to some of the larger multi-unit franchisees. We still have a lot of opportunities in development.”
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