Changing the Pizza Game, Domino’s Ups Cheese Use, Sees Results

3/23/2013 7:00 AM

Charlene M. Shupp Espenshade

Special Sections Editor

LANCASTER, Pa. — Six billion pounds of milk and counting. That’s how much milk Domino’s Pizza has used since it reformulated its pizza recipe in 2008.

Brandon Solano, Domino’s Pizza vice president of development, said the partnership between his company and the dairy checkoff has been a success. He spoke at last month’s Pennsylvania Dairy Summit in Lancaster, Pa.

For Domino’s, the second largest pizza retailer in the U.S., it’s improved pizza sales. For dairy farmers, it’s increased consumption of cheese.

Solano is best known for appearing in commercials for the chain, panning their old pizza and cheesy bread recipes and unveiling the new, revamped products with more cheese.

Pizza is big business according to Solano. An estimated 20 percent of cheese consumed by U.S. customers is on pizza. And while pizza is still a take-out staple, the company not only competes with other pizza chains and local pizzerias, but also with other take-out options.

“We have to be innovative,” he said, acknowledging that back in the mid-2000s the company had stagnated. “The world had changed. We weren’t unique anymore; we had to change.”

They reached out to Dairy Management Inc., the national dairy checkoff program, for some assistance.

Pizza recipes were revamped.

“We were not putting enough cheese on our pizza. We make more money (today) because we put more cheese on the pizza,” he said.

The revamped products increased cheese content by 40 percent on average. Domino’s also developed a Wisconsin six-cheese pizza with 82 percent more cheese.

They also revamped their cheese breads and expanded their offerings to include sandwiches.

“Almost every time we sell one of these things, they are sold with a pizza,” he said.

The second idea was the development of the Domino’s smart slice pizza for school lunches. With the increasing pressure to clean up school lunch programs, pizza was one of the targets. They worked to formulate a pizza that worked with school lunch guidelines. The pies have whole wheat crusts, reduced sodium content, reduced sugar and fewer calories from fat. The pizzas are baked at a local Domino’s restaurant and then delivered to the school at lunchtime.

This year, 400 school districts with 2,200 schools participate in the program. And, this year, the product will break even.

“We have been telling your story. We have done a lot of linking with DMI and others,” he said. “There was a long time (customers) did not care, now they do.”

Solano talked about advertising campaigns where they took unsuspecting people out to a farm for taste testing, ending with the “big reveal” that they were on a dairy farm to emphasize milk quality.

He said it was fun to see the reactions during the reveals, which took place in a cow pasture. Solano said with one group of testers a cow blew the cover on the location, mooing as the vehicle was heading to the pasture for the taste testing.

With local shops owned by franchisees, Domino’s has an international foothold. Solano said as part of their quality controls, American-produced cheese is being exported in Australia, parts of Asia and the Middle East.

Another way DMI helped to bolster pizza sales was with an “early week carryout deal.” Solano said it was not an easy sell to the organization’s franchisees.

“We took tons of heat from our franchisees on this,” he said before rolling the deal out. “They made up (the costs) in volume.”

He closed talking about their restaurants. Looking at most building designs, they were stark, harsh looking. They have started a new concept to redesign their stores, with a pilot program in Seattle.

The new design brings pizza making out to the storefront, and customers will be able to watch pizza being made. They are adding a seating area and a “grab and go” case that will include items like milk, yogurts parfaits and salads.

“Sales are going up,” he said. “Customers love it.”

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