Curry crust? Pizza Hut unveils huge changes

As Pizza Hut seeks to recharge its domestic business, the Yum Brands unit is betting on a massive menu expansion, a revamped digital experience and a nationwide rollout of skinny pizzas it plans to announce on Monday.

The new menu includes 10 new crusts, such as honey sriracha, and themed ones like "Get Curried Away;" sauce additions like garlic parmesan; and premium ingredients, including fresh spinach and cherry peppers harvested from the Peruvian highlands.

The world's biggest pizza chain launches the new menu nationwide Nov. 19.

"Today's consumer is always looking for new flavors," chief marketing officer Carrie Walsh said during a phone interview.

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Pizza Hut found customers wanted more customization and mashups of flavors, akin to what's available on the trendy food truck scene.

Cherry Pepper Bombshell pizza by Pizza Hut
Source: Pizza Hut
Cherry Pepper Bombshell pizza by Pizza Hut

It also expressed interest in lower-calorie pizza. A recent test of "skinny" versions proved successful enough that the brand has decided to expand them nationwide.

Diners can choose to customize their pizzas with a skinny crust or order one of five new Pizza Hut skinny creations, which clock in at 250 calories or fewer per slice and feature a thinner crust.

Online, the company is making its digital portal more interactive and visual. Mobile ordering will gain Spanish capabilities—reflecting a customer group that Walsh describes as "a critical piece of the business."

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Gone are the old Pizza Hut logo and box to modernize the 56-year old chain. Workers will also get a new look, ditching the former polo shirts and khakis in favor of jeans and t-shirts.

The revamped menu comes as Yum Brands seeks to turn around what CEO David Novak termed "continued soft performance" at its Pizza Hut Division during its last conference call. So far, the company's seen signs of progress in its U.S. turnaround.

Still, its Pizza Hut division, which excludes China and India, has seen a 2 percent decline in same-store sales year to date.

Its domestic business has struggled even as its competitors post strong gains. For the three months ended Sept. 28, comparable sales in North America rose 7.4 percent at Papa John's and 7.7. percent at Domino's Pizza.

Peter Saleh, a managing director and senior restaurant analyst at Telsey Advisory Group, attributes the chain's underperformance partly to the difficulty in building same store sales in a large base.

"I do think Domino's and Papa John's ... probably do a better job of promoting value," Saleh said.

To turn itself around, Saleh said, Pizza Hut should be "more innovative and others should be following."

This is exactly the challenge that Pizza Hut's new menu seeks to answer.

"I definitely see it as more of a proactive step in pushing the category to new places," Walsh said. She admits some of the flavors "push the envelope."

The chain's parent Yum Brands has seen big success with creative additions in the past. Pizza Hut's sister brand Taco Bell saw same-store sales jump 13 percent following the launch of its Doritos Locos Tacos in mid-2012.