“When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie,” the song goes, “that's amore.” But there is little love lost when a big maker of pizza pie gets hit in the eye with the success of sandwiches.
Pizza Hut, the nation's biggest pizza chain, will challenge sandwich shops — particularly those bearing the name of the category leader, Subway — with a new item, backed by a large campaign that was to begin Sunday. The product, called a P'Zolo, is shaped like a sandwich, comes in sandwich varieties like Buffalo chicken and “meat trio” and is priced like a sandwich, at $3 apiece or two for $5.
The $5 price is no random number, as it echoes what Subway charges for its popular foot-long sub sandwiches. The campaign to introduce the P'Zolo, by the Martin Agency in Richmond, Va., is replete with references to Subway, including lines like “Say so long to the footlong” and “More bang for your 5 bucks.”
For those who find those jabs too subtle, Pizza Hut was to take over a subway line in Chicago on Monday, wrapping trains with ads that read, “See ya subs. This is the P'Zolo.” Pizza Hut will give out free sandwiches to passengers at certain Red Line stops Thursday.
Pizza Hut, part of Yum Brands, has previously gone after the sandwich market with the P'Zone, a pizza-style calzone. The P'Zolo is more directly aimed at consumers who eat sandwiches.
Their ranks are growing, according to a report released last week by Technomic, a food industry consulting firm in Chicago, which found that “more consumers report purchasing sandwiches away from home today versus just two years ago.” While the dining-out industry overall lost 4,500 restaurants last year, the report said, Subway's store count rose by 872.
“We want to give consumers a new opportunity to access the brand,” said Kurt Kane, chief marketing officer at Pizza Hut in Plano, Texas, especially “our core consumers, who tend to be young adult males.”
The goal is for the P'Zolo to be “the antidote for the everyday sandwich,” he added. “We're happy to pick a fight with sub players today on consumers' behalf.”
Those players include, in addition to Subway, Quiznos, which recently returned to television advertising after two years, and Domino's Pizza, which sells a line of oven-baked sandwiches.
Pizza Hut is the largest pizza chain, ahead of Domino's, Little Caesars and Papa John's. But Subway is the largest sandwich chain — and No. 2 in fast food overall, behind only McDonald's. That means it will require a big effort for the P'Zolo to dent Subway's sales.
To that end, “we're really coming out all guns a-blazing,” Kane said, putting “significant weight behind” the introductory campaign, “comparable to any national pizza launch we do.”
According to data from Kantar Media, a unit of WPP, Pizza Hut spent $18.1 million on ads to introduce Ultimate Stuffed Crust pizza, $17.6 million on ads to bring out the Big Dipper pizza and $13.9 million on ads to introduce the Big Dinner Box.
The P'Zolo campaign includes, in addition to the Chicago subway promotion, elements like television commercials, a “See ya sub” game to be played on Pizza Hut's Facebook fan page, ads online, prominent placement on pizzahut.com and signs in stores.
Subway is keeping a close eye on the P'Zolo introduction.
“We've got a healthy respect for the competition in our category overall,” said Tony Pace, global chief marketing officer at Subway in Milford, Conn. “Having said that, imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, and we're flattered that others are asking, ‘How can we get a piece of that?”'