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pizza and the Top 500 logo.jpg Julia Stotz
Consumers appear to have become accustomed to the abundance of options for meal delivery, where the pizza segment was once largely unchallenged.

Pizza players battle for share in a stagnant segment

Growth for minimal for the biggest restaurants, with clear winners and losers among smaller brands

While the nation’s largest pizza operators enjoyed an unprecedented sales boost during the pandemic, they have since been battling back and forth for share of a slow-growth market.

Consumers appear to have become accustomed to the abundance of options for meal delivery, where the pizza segment was once largely unchallenged. The leading limited-service chains in other segments have captured a growing share of the off-premises market by optimizing the delivery and digital experience for their customers, services they have refined during the last few years.

In 2023, pizza operators generated the slowest sales growth among all of the restaurant segments included in the Top 500, tallying a 3% gain, or less than half the 7.1% menu-price inflation rate for the industry. The four largest pizza chains — Domino’s, Pizza Hut, Little Caesars, and Papa Johns — all posted sales growth in the low single digits last year.

“I think we’re settling back into a more normal environment where among the big three — Domino's, Papa Johns, and Pizza Hut — you’re going to have one succeeding and the other two maybe holding or losing share,” said Andy Barish, an analyst at Jefferies.

Lately the winner among the largest pizza purveyors has been Domino’s, which posted first-quarter 2024 revenue gains of 5.9% and same-store sales growth of 5.6%, driven by the chain’s new loyalty program and its partnership with Uber Eats.

Papa Johns, meanwhile, posted a 2% decline in both revenues and same-store sales for the first quarter, and Pizza Hut reported that its U.S. same-store sales fell 6% after lapping a strong first quarter a year ago.

“It seems to be back to a zero-sum game,” said Barish. “If one of the big guys is executing well, like Domino’s is right now, it tends to create pressure for the other two, and that is going to impact overall category growth.”

Among the second-tier pizza operators in the Top 500, a similar playing field of winners and losers emerged in 2023. A handful of operators outpaced the pizza category overall, including Marco’s Pizza (up 7.6%), MOD Pizza (up 5.7%), and Jet’s Pizza (up 6.6%). These were balanced, however, by chains that experienced sales erosion in 2023, including Hungry Howie’s Pizza (down 2.3%) and Round Table Pizza (down 4.8%). Papa Murphy’s Pizza was basically flat with a 0.7% sales gain.

Other limited-service restaurants, meanwhile, have zeroed in on the sales potential of delivery and pickup, and refined their operations in those areas. Taco Bell, for example, has introduced dedicated drive-thru lanes and pickup parking spaces for delivery drivers as a part of its Go Mobile store design, which was created to optimize delivery times.

“Our delivery drivers we view as a key stakeholder,” said Scott Mezvinsky, managing director of Taco Bell North America. “How do they have an easier experience? If it’s easier for them to access our brand, that translates to more sales.”


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All data courtesy Technomic Ignite Company data. Looking for more data? Click here to access the complete Technomic Top 500.

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