It’s tough being a fast food chain these days. Your sales are dropping as fresher, more nutritious foods and trendy newcomers like Chipotle invade your market share. Those mercurial, highly-coveted Millennial diners are choosing to eat elsewhere, leaving you to resort to desperate measures to win them back.
In these hard times, menu overhauls and extreme rebranding measures are crucial. Sure, you could work to convince the eating public that you have their nutritional best interests in mind, by dropping artificial dyes and chemicals, nixing soda from kids’ meals, and phasing out chicken raised with antibiotics from your supply chain. The usual. But to really get their attention, you need something flashy. Something decadent. Something that gets people talking, even if they’re saying, “Is this really necessary?”
You need a hot dog-crusted pizza.
That’s the decision Pizza Hut made Wednesday, when it confirmed that a line of its “Hot Dog Bites Pizza” will be available in its 6,300-plus US locations starting next week. The entrée consists of a large one-topping pizza surrounded with 28 pigs-in-a-blanket that serve as the crust.
A news release called it “the perfect combination for American tastebuds,” but the chain has been testing even more daring variations on the meat-stuffed pizza crust concept overseas for past few years. It first unveiled the hot dog pizza in South Korea in the late 2000s, then in the UK in 2012. It got even more ambitious for its locations in the Middle East, offering pizzas lined with a choice of tiny hamburgers or tiny chicken sandwiches. As of 2012, the chain’s Japan restaurants served the “Winter Double King” Pizza, featuring a crust stuffed with mayonnaise and shrimp.
No word if US seafood lovers can expect that on this side of the world anytime soon, but anything’s possible – the Hot Dog Bites Pizza is just the latest effort for the struggling chain (its US same-store sales fell 3 percent in 2014) to turn itself around. In November, Pizza Hut introduced a new line of specialty “craft” pizzas, with an expanded array of sauces, toppings, and ingredients like salami and fresh spinach. In May, along with Taco Bell, its sister chain under the Yum! Brands umbrella, it announced that it was dropping much-maligned artificial ingredients like Yellow 6 dye and high fructose corn syrup from its ingredients list.
Such changes are becoming typical among the nation’s fast food giants, particularly as customers become more knowledgeable and discerning about what goes into their food. But that doesn’t mean the arms race to create those outrageous conversation-piece menu items, like KFC’s double down or Hardee’s half-pound Great American Thickburger, is getting any less heated. Last week, Dunkin’ Donuts began selling a doughnut dusted with Chips Ahoy! chocolate chip cookies and filled with a chocolate chip cookie dough filling. Taco Bell, ever an innovator this sphere, has given us both a chicken biscuit taco and Cap’n Crunch doughnut holes in 2015.
The hot dog crust pizza, though, is a more proven concept than those. Pizza Hut executives claim it’s the company’s most popular specialty pizza overseas, and it toured several countries, including Australia, before making its way to the United States.