The pizza restaurant and delivery brand is exploring the potential for new channels and formats, including pizza by the slice

Papa Johns is looking to set out its roadmap for the next three to five years, following a reshuffle of its leadership team and a period of altered consumer behaviour, Lee Reed, senior director of operations tells MCA.

At close to 500 UK stores the pizza restaurant and delivery business may be a long way off competitor Domino’s in terms of scale, but it is a sizeable brand in the sector and determined to grow its estate, boost its brand appeal and maximise the performance of its existing footprint.

Like other QSR and delivery-based businesses, the pandemic actually resulted in two significant years from a positive trading perspective, which was then proceeded by a year of high inflation and, to some extent, a shift from consumers back to dining in, Reed explains.

“Last year was a little more challenging for us – we clearly saw some headwinds on inflation – but we are starting to see some real optimism again with a shift back into some of the delivery channels. We are opening new stores and equally starting to build transaction growth in our estate as well.”

Joining in October 2022, Reed had previously been director of franchise operations at KFC, spending nine years at the fast food brand. Other new hires include Rebecca Rose – previously head of marketing at Domino’s – who joined as senior director of marketing in November and Rob Beattie, its new senior director technology and digital – also previously at Domino’s.

The new team is now setting to work on how it can take the successes it has had in the past and build on them. “How do we evolve and develop both organically and inorganically […] and hopefully come out of some of these trading headwinds in a stronger and better position in order to drive longer term and sustainable growth?”

Papa Johns new look branding

Tech is a key focus area for the brand. Around 80% of its transactions currently come through the delivery channel – either via the web, its app, or the aggregators it partners with. As part of a current project to upgrade its customer journey, Papa Johns is in the process of updating its website, with the aim of creating a more user-friendly experience from end to end. It is also developing a new app to improve the user experience and make the offers and deals it has available more visible to the customer, he explains.

The business is finding that customers are generally more value conscious, so it has reduced a lot of the prices of its small, medium and large pizzas in a special deal for January. “We are also looking at what deals we can offer to ensure customers are getting the best value for money,” Reed explains. “Even brands that never used to look at value conscious deals, like Pret, are now doing so – we know it’s front of mind for consumers.”

The UK is also working closely with its US business, and with its franchisees – it has around 80 across the estate – to help them navigate the current cost challenges, with some of the initiatives it has employed including energy cooperatives, whereby its partners can club together and reduce the amount they are paying by building up economies of scale. It’s also putting in a number of work streams focused on cost engineering, particularly in Reed’s area of operations.

As part of its work on improving the customer journey Papa Johns is looking at how it can improve its customer recovery process when things do go wrong. “I think we have an opportunity to really elevate that experience for customers who maybe haven’t had a great experience, and win them back.” This includes how the use of AI and chatbots can be used in the customer recovery process, as well as for general queries.

Vegan pizza jan 21 1

The pizza restaurant and delivery business is also in the process of reviewing its restaurant design. While it began rolling out its new logo last spring – sans the previously used possessive apostrophe – the business is keen to undergo an upgrade programme across the estate and is working with its team in the US on a new look for the stores, which is close to being signed off, he says.

“We want to make sure this is a 21st century solution for consumers and deliver what they would expect from a brand of our size and scale, particularly in a competitive market where retail atmospherics and store design need to have a point of differentiation,” he explains.

While targets for store openings haven’t been finalised yet, Reed says Papa Johns has ambitious plans for growth, but that it is also looking to review the current estate in order to try and maximise its potential, whether that’s through marketing penetration or by driving an even better operational and customer experience.

In terms of new openings, one area that has been a particular success for the brand is its partnership with Haven, with the brand now present at 29 of its holiday parks across the UK. Papa Johns delivered its first modular pod to the holiday park operator’s Riviere Sands resort in Cornwall, last September, as part of a new initiative designed to offer flexible franchise opportunities.

Papa John's

Reed says the business is looking to amplify where it has some of those asset types that have turned out to be a great commercial success and it is exploring at how it expands in the holiday park market even further.

“We are also considering how we maximise the efficiencies of the footprint we have. Could we make smaller stores but with better trading hours, in different trade zones to maximise the accessibility of the brand for consumers, certainly in urban areas?”

The business is also looking at different asset formats, and other products they could potentially look at. While probably not on the horizon for this year, “clearly pizza by the slice is a consideration”, Reed says. “We want to consider some of those higher footfall areas where you get passing trade but not everybody wants to have a big pizza at lunchtime.”

With a relatively new leadership team, all ideas are effectively on the table, but Papa Johns needs to make sure when it does dip its toe into new arenas, that it makes the right call on what initiatives to progress, he says. “It’s a really exciting time for the brand.”