Domino's is playing chicken with the pizza giants.
On Monday, the pizza delivery kingpin announced plans to roll out a new chicken platform that places its pizza toppings on breaded, boneless chicken pieces -- almost like toppings on pizza. The new menu offering, dubbed Specialty Chicken, hits domestic Domino's stores on April 21, as part of the chain's $5.99 value deals.
'We're doing something with chicken that no one else is doing,' says J. Patrick Doyle, CEO of Domino's, in a phone interview. 'We look at this as an opportunity to do chicken with a twist.'
For the $35 billion pizza industry, it's all about inventing new ways to grow. Most of the major chains already sell chicken wings. Now, it's all about pushing the envelope -- but in a way that makes economic sense. Pizza delivery sales, which got hit hard during the economic downturn, have recovered nicely. But Millennials are increasingly demanding new and creative offerings, which is nudging the big pizza players beyond the edges of the traditional pizza pie.
Restaurant sales of chicken are on a roll. And sales of boneless chicken, in particular, are up 11% over the past three years, says NPD Group, the research specialist. Even before the new roll-out, Domino's already sells more chicken than anything else besides pizza, says Doyle. That includes pasta, salads and soft drinks. It's sold chicken wings for more than two decades. The key to this new dish, says Doyle, is that it gives consumers a chance to top chicken with the very same ingredients they like to layer on pizza. And for store owners, it doesn't require stocking extra ingredients -- since the toppings already are in the store.
The four initial offerings: Crispy Bacon & Tomato; Spicy Jalapeno & Pineapple; Classic Hot Buffalo and Sweet BBQ Bacon.
These offerings could grow over time, says Doyle.
But at least one industry consultant is skeptical. 'Every time a pizza chain tries to diversity, it usually doesn't work so well,' advises Bob Goldin, executive vice president at Technomic, the restaurant research and consulting firm. That said, he notes, many consumers have a 'healthier' perception of chicken vs. burgers or pizza. 'It has a little bit more halo than red meats.'
Domino's has been on a pretty good roll since it changed its pizza recipe back in 2010. It's domestic same-store sales rose 3..7% in the fourth quarter of 2013, and its international same-store sales jumped 7%.
A commercial promoting the new chicken platform concedes that it's a bit outside the box for a pizza place, and even pokes fun at other wacky ideas that never made it -- like the Cookie Pizza.
Why not come up with a sexier name than Specialty Chicken?
In a test, Domino's tried calling it 'Pizza Chicken.' There was only one problem, says Doyle, 'Nobody knew what that was.'