Pizza Hut created the mass market for stuffed-crust pizza nearly 20 years ago, and has dominated it since, but its upcoming 3-Cheese Stuffed Crust variety could push the menu line into a $1 billion category on its own within three years, brand officials indicated.

With the debut of the 3-Cheese Stuffed Crust, which launches nationwide Oct. 20, Pizza Hut believes it could widen its lead in that line of business and generate $1 billion in annual sales from its Stuffed Crust category, spokesman Doug Terfehr said in an email. After garnering $300 million in sales when it launched in 1995, Stuffed Crust Pizza now accounts for approximately 10 percent of Pizza Hut’s sales, he added.

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The 3-Cheese Stuffed Crust will feature a blend of white Cheddar, mozzarella and provolone cheeses in the crust, and will be Pizza Hut’s first permanent new pizza since the original Stuffed Crust launched. A large, one-topping 3-Cheese Stuffed Crust Pizza will be sold for $12.

In a statement, chief marketing officer Kurt Kane called the original Stuffed Crust Pizza “one of the most iconic products ever introduced in the restaurant industry” and held it up as an example of Pizza Hut’s ability to lead the segment through menu development.

“People loved it and continue to love it, which is why we’re so excited about the development of our new 3-Cheese Stuffed Crust Pizza,” Kane said. “Our 3-Cheese has a unique look and taste when compared to the original. Our innovation team has been perfecting a new permanent addition to our menu for a long time, and we nailed it.”

Among the three largest pizza brands in the United States, Pizza Hut has owned a stuffed-crust pie as a differentiator. Meanwhile, Domino’s has launched its Handmade Pan Pizza in the past year to compete in the market for Pizza Hut’s core pan pizza offering. Papa John’s Pizza and Domino’s also advertise just as heavily as Pizza Hut around value, going deal-for-deal with the chain to counter Pizza Hut’s $10 any-size pizza offer or the Big Dinner Box and $10 Dinner Box.

Coming attraction

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Pizza Hut is previewing its new 3-Cheese Stuffed Crust Pizza two weeks before its nationwide launch at three restaurants, which over the years have been the most devoted to the original Stuffed Crust. Since 1995, Stuffed Crust Pizza has made up its biggest percentage of Pizza Hut’s sales at individual restaurants in San Jose, Calif.; Salem, Ore.; and Silver Spring, Md. — and those locations are the first three Pizza Hut units to introduce the 3-Cheese Stuffed Crust, beginning Oct. 7.

“These three cities were selected due to their passion for the original Stuffed Crust,” Terfehr wrote. “They are our top Stuffed Crust cities in the country, and one restaurant in each market will become a destination for early adopters and superfans to try the product before Oct. 20.”

All other Pizza Hut customers will have the chance to bring the 3-Cheese Stuffed Crust to their markets a week early via the “3-Cheese Tease” contest on Twitter. Through 11:59 p.m. EST on Wednesday, Oct. 9, fans can include the hash tag “#3CheeseStuffed” in a tweet, along with their city name and state abbreviation in a hash tag — for example, “#DallasTX” — to cast a vote for their market. The city with the most tweets by the morning of Oct. 10 will win the rollout of 3-Cheese Stuffed Crust to one restaurant in that market, beginning Oct. 14.

“Given the loyal, loyal following this product has had, we anticipate a lot of submissions and are excited to see what city wins out,” Terfehr wrote. “Could be a big city or a small town. The cult-like following of this product is pretty incredible.”

Early reports of the product described it as a play for Millennial customers, who might be most open to a three-cheese flavor combination. Terfehr agreed with the notion, writing, “There has been a lot of research done that points to Millennials favoring a more flavorful experience when it comes to food, hence the explosion in Mexican- and Thai-type restaurants.”

Plano, Texas-based Pizza Hut operates or franchises more than 10,000 restaurants in more than 90 countries. It is a division of Louisville, Ky.-based Yum! Brands Inc., which also owns KFC and Taco Bell.

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