Papa John's UK business will pull away from the global brand marketing strategy as the company continues its recovery following a series of missteps over the past 18 months.
In the face if increasing competition in the UK, marketing director Giles Codd said it will "move away from the brand position that we had two years ago" as it maps out its 2020 marketing strategy after being "given more freedom" from its US parent.
Codd joined the pizza franchise just one year ago during what was the most difficult period in its history.
The pizza chain’s major problems began last year when its problematic founder, mascot, chief executive and chairman John Schnatter delivered a sustained series of PR misfires. Schnatter eventually stepped down altogether in July 2018 after he had to publicly apologise for using a racial slur during a call with his agency of record.
Despite being removed from the company, Schnatter continued to cause problems. Just this week, he gave his first major interview since he was ousted and used the opportunity to accuse unnamed executives of stealing the company from him.
"It's not something we dwell on in the UK," said Codd of the ongoing troubles. "It doesn't form part of any conversation we have on a weekly or monthly basis. We're very heads down, work hard."
To aid the firefighting, the US business brought in the four-time NBA champion Shaquille O’Neal as a brand ambassador and member of the board of directors after he invested in nine Atlanta restaurants.
However, Codd will not be using O'Neal to front UK turnaround plans.
“We have no plans to renew with a new front person as such as Shaquille O’Neal,” he admitted. “He’s very much part of US business and the global brand as it stands.”
Papa John’s UK is now getting itself back on track but Codd was quick to say that the strategy for 2020 will not "change significantly".
"What I’ve tried to do this yea is rebuild our foundations, improve our product and finding innovative ways to attract a younger audience," he said.
“We’re really keen to keep changing and looking to the future. And ultimately... we want to be fun.”
But it's doing it on a budget. In the US, Papa John's embarked on a $40m marketing push after it received a $100m investment from Starboard in February.
“I wish there was a similar amount of money, that is the US business,” Codd divulged. “I’m going to be honest about this, our budgets are our budgets. We need to think clever because we can’t overspend our competitors. We need to be spending it in the most effective way and sometimes that’s not doing the norm.”
The UK business, therefore, has to make its pennies stretch to help it keep up with its main competitors - Pizza Hut and Domino's. According to Statista, the UK pizza delivery sector is worth £2.1bn. The market leader is Domino's, which operates over 1000 stores, and leapfrogged Pizza Hut in global sales back in 2017.
“What makes us competitive in the UK? First and foremost - the quality of our products,” Codd proclaimed. "We certainly had some first to market this year. We were the first national delivery chain to launch vegan."
Keen to "spot and understand" key trends, Papa John's is set to install its first 'chief vegan officer' - a unique job to inform the chain of all the must-have vegan trends. They will report to the head of research and development.
"We'll continue to look at those smooth eating trends and habits and making sure we're ahead of the curve," Codd said.
Food delivery competition
The rapid increase of delivery services like Deliveroo, Uber Eats and Just Eat has put a strain on delivery-first chains like Domino's and Papa John's, giving smaller pizza restaurants the ability to home deliver by tapping into their sizeable networks of deliver drivers.
And while he cites the “new kids on the block” as challengers, he said “it’s really important for them to work with the giants and understand their business and see how we can help each other as I’m in no doubt their ahead today.”
Papa John's is therefore available on all three and by embracing them, rather than fighting their rise, it's getting access to customer insight. "Platforms like this have a huge database of users. I certainly see it as a partnership with these guys."
With Brexit still looming over the whole of the UK, the overall impact on business is still uncertain. According to IbisWorld, weaker consumer confidence is likely to result in lowerer demand for discretionary items such as takeaways which will impact demand for pizzas.
It also cites pressure from the potential erection of barriers to the free movement of people which could reduce workforce and the depreciation in the value of the pound increasing the cost of imported goods.
Codd admitted that the threat of Brexit was a particular challenge for the brand. “There are people with a lot of uncertainty in the world, people are finding their budgets. It’s an ever-evolving challenge for us, whether that be financial or habitual.”