Pizza titans avoid Italy ... for now

Italy might be the birthplace of pizza, but good luck trying to find a slice from the pizza giants there.

The closest you'll get to ordering a 14-inch pie in the land of the Romans during National Pizza Month, which began Wednesday, is visiting Pizza Inn in Italy, Texas.

Pizza pie
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While pizza growth in the country of Italy outpaced that of the U.S. in 2013, that hasn't been the trend over the past five years. From 2008 to 2013, the market for pizza in the U.S. grew 3 percent to $37.5 billion while Italy's sales dropped 10 percent during the same period, according to Euromonitor.

Per capita, though, Italians still chow down much more than Americans on pizza made by restaurants. They spend nearly $457 per person on the food, compared to just $119 in the U.S.

Still, big chains have by and large stayed out of the market.

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While Little Caesars does not operate an outpost in Italy, it has sent a number of people there over the years to look at product ideas. As it continues to expand, Jim Hartenstein, vice president of Little Caesars International, expects the country to make the list eventually.

"It's an attractive market, clearly," Hartenstein said during a phone interview. "I think our strategy is just a bit different."

"Our initial focus is more on the developing countries rather than the developed," he added.

As part of its expansion plan, Little Caesars has focused on Canada, Latin America, the Caribbean, Europe and the Middle East Africa region. The chain is just wading into the Asian Pacific region.

Take-and-bake pizza chain Papa Murphy's has also shied away so far. It currently has more than 1,435 stores in 38 states, Canada and the United Arab Emirates.

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Ken Calwell, Papa Murphy's president and CEO, said it plans to grow the U.S. market first, to as many as 4,500 stores.

"We want to make sure we do a great job where we are today and then start to roll out to other countries after that," said Calwell in a phone interview.

Pizza competitor Sbarro hasn't ruled out opening an Italian homecoming.

In an email, Sbarro Chief Marketing Officer Anne Pritz wrote, "As a company whose founding family emigrated from Naples to New York in the '50s, a location in Italy would be a great addition to the Sbarro brand. We currently do not have a presence in Italy, but we are always open to expansion. Our International business is very robust, so it's never out of the question."

But don't expect the U.S.'s biggest pizza player to open there any time soon.

A spokesman for Yum Brand's Pizza Hut wrote in an email that taking Pizza Hut to "Italy does not fit with our global brand story."

Domino's Pizza also isn't active in the market. A spokesman declined to comment further saying "we don't typically comment on markets that we are not present in until we announce them."