Pizza Hut Goes Old School for Its Next Pie Innovations

This handout photo provided by Pizza Hut,  shows a hand-tossed pizza.  Pizza Hut announced Monday, Jan. 13, 2014, it plans to start offering pizza by the slice for the first time in two test locations this week, as the chain looks to keep pace with trendy competitors offering quick, made-to-order pies. (AP Photo/Pizza Hut)
It's OK to say that Pizza Hut is full of hot air when it comes to its latest marketing move. It almost certainly won't mind.

Yum! Brands' (YUM) iconic Pizza Hut introduced a new crust for its hand-tossed pizzas on Thursday. Instead of stuffing crusts with various types of cheese or even pepperoni as it has done in the past, Pizza Hut is promoting the fact that its new hand-tossed pizzas now feature a more airy texture.

Pumping more air into the dough is supposed to give the pies less of a cookie-cutter appearance, an unusual choice among chains that sell themselves on their consistency. Every snowflake is unique, but every chain order is supposed to be uniform across the various locations. It's what customers expect.

However, just as the term "hand-tossed" conveys a personal touch, having a few more air pockets in the pizzas should generate some retro charm akin to an indie pizzeria. So Pizza Hut is proud of the "noticeable imperfections" of the new pies.

It's not that big of a gamble. The rest of Pizza Hut's menu options will remain the same. If this move doesn't "pan" out, it can be quickly replaced with the next evolutionary step of crust stuffing in the pizza giant's playbook.

Pizza Hut doesn't stand still, even if it's odd to find it stuffing its pies with air.

Pizza Hut is Bigger Than You Think

There are more than 14,000 Pizza Hut locations across 100 different countries, making the chain a major component of the Yum! Brands family that also includes Taco Bell and KFC. It could also use a boost. Comparable-store sales at domestic Pizza Hut locations slipped 1 percent in Yum! Brands' latest quarter.

These are competitive times, and for Pizza Hut, the challenge now is about more than beefing up its delivery business to compete with Papa John's (PZZA) and Domino's (DPZ), which seem to always have some ridiculous price promotion going on. (This is a business that has become cutthroat enough that Pizza Hut even feels the need to explicitly offer full refunds on the new air-blown pies if customers aren't satisfied.)

No, the potentially even bigger threat comes from the fast-casual pizza movement. Chipotle Mexican Grill (CMG) and Buffalo Wild Wings (BWLD) have recently invested in the niche, and Pizza Hut doesn't want to be left out in the cold.

Slicing a New Path

It's not just air-puffed hand-tossed pizzas on the menu. Pizza Hut turned heads on Tuesday by introducing two stores that will specialize in selling pizzas by the slice, like New York style pizzerias (or Sbarro), to be eaten there or on the go.

Pizza Hut has offered small personal pan pizzas for ages, but selling slices gives the company a way to cash in on the fast casual trend of customers who want to enjoy a quick meal without having to flag down a server to pay the check. The two new concept stores will still offer the Pizza Hut staples, but the real draw will be the pizza "bar" that quickly dispenses slices as they're ordered.

Competitive moves: We'll see if they make the dough rise.

Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Buffalo Wild Wings and Chipotle Mexican Grill. The Motley Fool owns shares of Buffalo Wild Wings, Chipotle Mexican Grill, and Papa John's International. Try any of our newsletter services free for 30 days.

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I've tried all the major (and some of the minor) pizza makers/sellers localy in Salt Lake City and can say witjout a doubt, I love their hand-tossed pizza. hopefully, their new twist on the crust won't make the taste change. I prefer Pizza Hut over all others. i've found the others taste like cardboard.

January 21 2014 at 5:29 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

What are the chances of the teen agers in the kitchen at pizza hut being able to make a pizza from scratch? HaHa, I bet yeast and flour aren\'t even on the shelf in their kitchen.

January 21 2014 at 3:32 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Haha I try hard to make my pizza at home look like a cookie cutter pizza, and Pizza Hut is trying to make their cookie cutter pizzas look like home made imperfection. Oh the irony of it all.

January 21 2014 at 2:34 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I want to know why ALL pizza places in New york have stoipped using spices in the making of their pizzas. Italian seasoning, garlic powder, garlic salt, oregano where is the spice? I can\'t see it. Don\'t say its in the sauce, It isn\'t... I cannot see it. I think they stopped using spices due to the cost. I now make my own damned pizza here at home like my mother used to make in the 1940-1970s with lots of spices. ..And I make Anchovy Pizza occasionally too something NO ONE makes commercially.

January 21 2014 at 1:31 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Why did pizza makers stop making tomato pies? The tomato sauce on pizza today is a thin film if at all. They all load on fake cheese, so it becomes a fake cheese pie. I want a real PIE.

January 20 2014 at 5:53 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to rjen164497's comment

Make your own like I do.

January 21 2014 at 1:31 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

That "Stuffed Crust" isn't around any more because it was horrible. it was ok on the first day, maybe, but as leftovers it was nothing but a super-salty hunk of coagulated grease in the middle of the crust. I don't see how this "airy" crust is going to be much's only going to hold more of the grease drippings and do the same thing, plus, will it be strong enough to hold all the toppings without collapsing?

January 20 2014 at 4:36 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Why do "professional" writers insist on putting an "of" where it does not in "not that big OF a deal". Please..As for chain pizzas, the only decent one is Bertucci's Restaurant. They make an excellent Marguerita pizza.

January 20 2014 at 3:11 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to Ellen's comment

I love Bertucci's, lets go on a date there together.

January 20 2014 at 9:37 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

It depends upon how much of an education you\'ve had, whether or not you\'ve had english composition in colllege or not. Using of is very proper. What would you like writers to write?... its not a big deal or its no big deal? Its not that much of a big deal? whoever heard of Bertuccci\'s? Don\'t forget whatever you write here goes all around the entire world. Bertuccis in china? Bagdahd, Lison, London, Richibucto? huh where?

January 21 2014 at 1:36 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

This is pizza for people without taste buds and who would eat wallboard if it had sauce and cheese on it.

January 20 2014 at 2:39 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Pizza Hut, Poppa John's and other crappy chains run by right wing creeps are the further thing from "old school" you can get. I'm from old-school Brooklyn, grew up on Di Fara's (real pizza tossed and made by hand with fresh mozzarella, basil, etc), and retch from these fake-Italian corporate pies. Give me a break!

January 20 2014 at 2:11 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply

A rich guy refusing Health Care and a living wage for his employees. Crappy pizza as well. The guy lives in a castle . I have boycotted his pizza for a long time now. He is too greedy for me.

January 20 2014 at 12:40 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to rckevans's comment

Rich because he worked hard and didn\'t waste his time criticizing others (except those who would ruin his business)

January 20 2014 at 5:34 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to kippster1's comment

Spoken like a true Republican.

January 20 2014 at 9:35 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down