Look, do I think it’s silly that Papa John’s went out of the way to convince the public that what it really wants out of a pizza is something that doesn’t come with bread?
Yes. Yes, I do.
But certainly, I can see what they were thinking when they announced Papa Bowls this week. Papa John’s announced that people were sick of pizza, one of the most popular foods in the world, because a surge in sales during the pandemic has turned into only modest growth.
Scott Rodriguez, the senior vice president of menu strategy and innovation for the food chain, implied that we were simply sick of pizza.
“There’s a general thought that there could be a little bit of pizza fatigue,” Rodriguez told CNN Business. “Because that’s all we’ve had for the last couple of years.”
(Scott, are you not familiar with DoorDash? We could get literally every meal we wanted—including, but not limited to, pizza—by pressing a button.)
Now, to be clear, the idea of putting the parts of pizza in a bowl for people who don’t want gluten is not a totally new idea—the up-and-coming Marco’s started selling this exact concept years ago.
But Papa John’s decision to do this elicited a lot of jokes, and I think the reason for that comes down to the framing, which implied people were not interested in pizza at all. It’s kind of a comical thing to claim. Mind you, Papa John’s sales aren’t even down. They just aren’t growing as fast as they were during a historic period in which everyone ordered delivery because they couldn’t go outside. They managed to maintain their 2020 surge in growth into 2022, and because the chart isn’t growing as fast as they’d like, they’re suddenly looking to fix pizza.
So we have this situation where a prominent pizza chain is trying to sell the idea that pizza is no longer desired, so that they can sell you the solution.
It’s like they set up the joke and just gave everyone a free punchline—which meant that everyone from Jon Stewart to Patton Oswalt, two comedians with famously harsh stances on certain types of fast food, could get a freebie from Papa John’s over the inherently silly claim that pizza was somehow falling out of fashion.
It’s kind of a bad look for a company that has suffered some of the harshest headlines of any franchised businesses over the last five years as a result of the controversies its former leader, Papa John Schnatter, has pushed it into.
I guess, in a sense, maybe it’s a good thing we’re talking about how bad their pizza is rather than how bad their former leader is. But maybe they should take a different tack next time they launch a product a competitor already sells?
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