The recent trial of new products, service style and décor will shape the chain's future direction
Sbarro’s recently ended a two-month trial of new products, service style and décor conducted at 10 test units will help shape the Italian quick-service chain’s future direction as it migrates into the fast-casual market, president and chief executive Jim Greco told Nation’s Restaurant News.
Greco said Sbarro’s reformulated Neapolitan-style pizza was well received by customers, but the new line of made-to-order pastas and sauces did not generate as strong a sales response in the test stores, which debuted early in June.
“Customers preferred the new sauces and pastas over the existing recipes,” Greco said. “But their intent to purchase was not as high as we had expected. It wasn’t because of the taste, though; it just wasn’t what they were necessarily looking for in the mall at lunchtime.”
In the test units, pizza accounted for 45 percent of total sales, while pasta generated about 6 percent.
Greco said the units will continue to offer the new pasta line — which consists of five sauces and three pastas — with expectations that it might climb to 10 percent of sales eventually. “However, we don’t think [pasta] will be a big-selling item,” he added. “We expect to focus on the pizza and some other products.”
Customers embraced the new pizza recipe more enthusiastically than the new pasta, Greco said. “We found that people prefer the new pizza to the existing recipe by a wide margin,” he noted.
The new recipe is based on traditional Neapolitan style pizza, with a thinner crust, simpler tomato sauce that requires few spices, freshly grated whole-milk mozzarella, and Pecorino Romano cheese.
The 10 test units saw initial sales increases of about 10 percent, Greco said. Sbarro currently generates an average unit volume of about $690,000.
Greco declined to say when the new pizza will be rolled out across the 1,013-unit international chain, but he said the brand was planning “a big event” around the new pizza iteration that will coincide with National Pizza Month in October.
The test units also provided other operational data for the Melville, N.Y.-based chain. “We learned that there is a need for extensive operational training to allow us to execute properly,” he said. “Some units executed better than others.”
Sbarro’s new open-flame ovens “were a big success,” Greco continued. He said the hotter ovens took three minutes off the prep time it took to make a large pizza — down to five-and-a-half minutes from eight-and-a-half minutes. The new ovens also reduced the amount of time it takes to warm a slice, from two minutes to one minute.
In addition to speeding up prep time, the new ovens also provided “theater” for customers. “The flames are very impressive,” Greco said. “You can see them across the food court.”
He said the test units’ new induction cooktops worked well, too. “We can make pasta very quickly, but we plan to modify the preparation going forward to cut more time off,” he said.
In the meantime, the chain is continuing to address the balance of the menu. Among the items being explored are new salads, pizza varieties, desserts and “handheld” options.
Sbarro will continue to transition itself into the fast-casual sector under the brand positioning of “Hands on Italian.” “It reflects authenticity and creativity rooted in the Italian tradition, done with flair and fun,” he said. “’Hands on Italian’ is very much in keeping with the fast-casual vision.”
Contact Paul Frumkin at email@example.com.