Pizza Hut this week expanded into the flatbread category, becoming one the first large pizza brands to offer the trending platform nationally.
Firebaked-Style Flatbreads, available at U.S. units only, feature a “slightly crispy wood-fired style” crust, cheese and three toppings. The flatbreads come six to a box and can be topped three different ways for $11.99.
“We’ve been watching flatbreads closely, talking to our consumers to understand the appeal,” Carrie Walsh, vice president of national marketing for the Plano, Tex.-based Yum Brands division, said in a phone interview Friday. “We’ve seen both awareness and excitement around this product type really growing.”
The more than 6,300 domestic Pizza Huts quietly began offering the flatbreads online Sunday.
“We’ll have television media starting June 30,” said Walsh. “We’re certainly going to support it with the full weight of our marketing with digital, social and PR” as well as traditional print, point of purchase and other merchandising.
The “Firebaked-Style” description taps into the growing trend of mom-and-pop operators using brick ovens.
Major restaurant chains have also bit off a piece of the flatbread market. Casual-dining chain Chili’s Grill & Bar recently introduced pizzas and flatbreads to its menus, pushing the introduction by giving away one million flatbreads to new and existing members of its email club. Wendy’s introduced flatbread sandwiches earlier this year.
“Our innovation team has worked hard to draw inspiration from what we see in some of the local pizza places with the brick-oven style flavor,” Walsh explained. “Obviously, we’re not cooking it in a brick oven, but we’ve tried to replicate the style and flavor and texture of those types of products.”
The option for the customer to top the six boxed flatbreads three different ways was important, Walsh added. “You get the benefit of customization in addition to the new flatbread crust,” she said.
Pizza Hut’s early research indicated the customization option was popular, Walsh said.
“We are seeing some people loading up on veggies, and others who are actually choosing a couple for the kids and keeping it simple with pepperoni or cheese,” she explained. “The nice thing about the customization is that it allows customers to really satisfy everyone in a group. … It was giving them enough variety without it becoming overly complex.”
The flatbreads also appeal to those customers seeking value. An order of the new flatbreads is 14-percent larger than a traditional large pizza, a spokesman said.
“Obviously we’ve seen it as a growing trend at local pizzerias around the country, Walsh said. “We’ve been watching flatbreads closely, talking to our consumers to understand the appeal. … We’ve seen both awareness and excitement around this product type really growing.”
Pizza Hut, a division of Louisville, Ky.-based Yum Brands, has about 10,000 restaurants in 90 nations.