Pizza Hut said Monday it plans to start offering pizza by the slice for the first time in two test locations this week, as the chain looks to keep pace with competitors offering quick, made-to-order pies. | AP Photo
Updated: February 17, 2014 8:04AM
NEW YORK — Pizza Hut plans to start offering pizza by the slice for the first time in two locations this week, part of a test to refashion its image and court diners in their 20s and 30s.
The chain says the two locations — one in York, Neb. and Pawtucket, R.I. — were to open Tuesday.
A slice will cost between $2 and $3 and take three to four minutes to heat up. They’ll be made with new recipes more in line with the thinner pizzas sold in the Northeast.
The tests reflect how established restaurant chains are scrambling to keep pace with a rapidly changing industry. Diners are increasingly flocking to places such as Chipotle, where they feel they can get restaurant-quality food for just a little more than they would pay at fast-food chains such as Burger King.
In fact, Chipotle recently announced plans to move into the pizza business with Pizzeria Locale. Customers walk up to a counter and can watch as their pizza is built; the pizza is then placed in an oven that cooks it in about 2 minutes. Other pizza chains feature similar fast-cooking, make-your-own concepts, including Blaze Pizza, based in Pasadena, Calif., and Pizza Studio, based in Los Angeles.
For its part, Pizza Hut has been focusing on developing its smaller format carry-out stores rather than its dine-in restaurants in recent years as its sales have been choppy. In each of the first three quarters of 2013, sales fell slightly at locations open at least a year.
“We’re seeing the trends for quick and ready products,” noted Carrie Walsh, Pizza Hut’s chief marketing officer.
Rival Domino’s has also been selling pizza by the slice at some of its newly designed stores, according to a spokesman.
Some chains aren’t currently built to deliver the type of dining experience being popularized by the likes of Chipotle. Pizza Hut’s traditional ovens, for instance, take about 7 to 10 minutes to cook pizzas, according to Al Litchenburg, the chain’s chief development officer. By comparison, the upstart pizza chains such as Blaze Pizza promise cooking times of just two to three minutes.
Litchenburg says the Pizza Hut test locations will be equipped with new ovens to heat up the slices, but they’ll also have the traditional ovens to cook other pizzas.