Getting A Pizza The Action

Most of us love pizza and Italian food, whether this is sitting lakeside in Garda with a glass of wine or munching through a New York style pizza at 2am, it is amazing how such a simple dish has traversed the globe and is eaten by all members of society. In the UK the pizza market has been dominated by several large brands. Allegra Strategies report that the UK Pizza market (2013) breaks down as follows:

Outlets Restaurant Market Share
Pizza Hut 650 10.90%
Pizza Express 406 8.60%
Prezzo 198 3.80%
Zizzi 130 2.60%
Strada 68 1.50%

The product is pretty generic but Pizza Hut, the market leaders, successfully differentiated their own product over the past 15 years developing a total market strategy. Pizza Hut offered salads, pasta and a full range of pizza bases and shapes catering to all members of the family. The UK brands – Pizza Express, Prezzo, Zizzi and Strada also followed the total market maxim with pizza at the core, plus salads and other broad menu items.

So what we effectively see is a market dominated by two large players and three smaller players offering a similar offering, but more interestingly, there are several insurgents and niche operators which are challenging the big boys as a credible alternative.

In order to capture market share, these new operators have segmented the market and have focused on targeting customers with what they want.

There is Franco Manca, which is targeting the casual dining crowd featuring a smaller menu with a focus on ingredients, differentiating mainly on the sourdough base, which should appeal to the younger customer and not the family dining space.

This is closely followed by Pizza Pilgrims, which has evolved from a market stall and focuses on heritage and authenticity of the pizza in the modern age, again targeting the individual or social diner.

Sunday Lunchtime

Over the recent holidays I visited two of the London based pizza challengers aimed at the family pizza market, which is dominated by the big five above.

In each, the intention was to have a nice family lunch and enjoy the food.

Prior to the holidays I had not been to either of these restaurants before. I was unaware of the menus, history or ownership, but as an MBA with a curious mind, I have given some thought to my experiences – and indeed the follow up.

For all students of marketing, finance and strategy, this is a very interesting case study.

Pizza East

Pizza East

Pizza East is owned by Soho House Group and has four units, in east, west and north London, and Chicago. We visited the Shoreditch unit in Derwent’s Tea Building.

We went on a Sunday lunchtime, expecting to be part of the Shoreditch hipster set, but were surprised to be surrounded by lots of families eating good food and an amazing family friendly menu. So whilst the marketing and positioning of the brand and content is for the “hip” crowd, the family crowd are happy to buy into this, especially in the day time.

The key conceptual differentiators are the environment and experience; there is more exposed concrete in Pizza East than on Derwent’s current development on the other side of Old Street and the informal engagement with friendly servers and the easy going nature worked just so well. But the winner was the food. This was first class pizza and very well done sides.

We live nowhere near Shoreditch, which is why we hadn’t been since the place opened, but would we make the effort to drive 40 minutes through London for pizza – yes, and we have done subsequently.

Here you have a successful strategy, which has a concept, several defined markets and is executed well. The owners have not sought to rapidly exploit at a pace that dilutes the brand and the experience, and for long-term sustainable success, this is a strong proposition.



The UK restaurant market is dominated by institutional and private equity backed investment. I have a little bit of knowledge in this space and once met Luc Vandevelde, the Founder Chairman of Change Capital Partners who have invested heavily in Sebeto, the Italian group that owns and operates Rossopomodoro both in Italy, and in the UK.

The PE investors in the restaurant sector have both done very well in terms of investment return, but also have enabled the expansion of the sector to grow, although some would say that the ‘Pizza Expressisation’ of the high street is not such a good thing for independent restaurateurs, it has forced under-par operators to shape up and give customers what they want

The premise of Rossopomodoro is this; casual restaurant concept focusing on a menu of genuine Neapolitan pizza and Neapolitan recipes aimed at targeting the family customer, so all parts of the family can order something different.

Having read the franchising pack, the brand premise is based on visible attraction and to target people who are not looking to travel “too far” on an average expense mission.

So the basic strategy of Rossopomodoro is to position a similar offering to the mainstream market, at the exactly the same customer segment as Pizza Hut, Pizza Express, Zizzi, Prezzo and Strada.

The rationale, I assume, is that if you think that this is an established market, by creating an offering on par with the market, you will achieve a natural proportion of market share.

The problem is that based on my experience Rossopomodo is a real mess – in so many ways.

Here are my thoughts:

You are in a competitive space, if you are going to make food your differentiator, try and get it right:

  1. If you are advertising burrata on your menu, sell burrata, not mozzarella. There is difference.
  2. If you are selling focaccia, it shouldn’t thud when knocked against a table – the bread was so stale, Churchill could have built his garden walls at Chartwell with it!
  3. Pizza – and even Neopolitan pizza – is not served with a pool of olive oil on it. Poor.
  4. Finally, when you point this out to the manager – after waiting some time – the customer doesn’t like to be told that he “doesn’t know what he is talking about and clearly has no idea what Neapolitan food is like.” We don’t like being insulted very much.

Becoming A Brand Terrorist

If you are not seeking to have food as your differentiator it isn’t that important what the food is like. The likes of Hard Rock, Planet Hollywood and Rainforest Café do not make the food the key aspect and they survive as they appreciate the key is the experience to the customer.

Yum! Brands realised this some times ago. I have discussed this before in my blogs, but only too happy to do so again as I cannot believe how few restauranteurs are aware of these principles which have been around since 1994- when social media was sharing a newspaper. Heskett et al. talk about the Service Profit Chain, where customer loyalty drives profit and growth.

When customers are happy they remain loyal, when customers are very unhappy, they become “terrorists”. A Satisfied Customer Is Loyal Today, more than ever, your customers are the key to your business.

Just as Pizza East has become popularised through word of mouth rather than unit proliferation, companies have to give disaffected customers the ability to address their issues.

When these complaints continue to fester, customers can become brand terrorists, which I fear Rossopomodoro would consider me to be – with some merit! I repeatedly asked them on twitter to contact me, tried in vain several times to contact head office to alert them to my experience (as a marketing academic, and social science undergrad I strongly believe in “voice of the customer” programmes and am always happy to informally feedback) but there is no way of contacting the head office.

Having asked Rossopomodoro several times to contact me on twitter, they have blocked me; so in trying to feedback without success, I am now, as Heskett would say, a very dissatisfied customer. Not only is the food bad and the staff insulting, there is no way to complain about it!


(FYI – this isn’t the pizza in question!)


So here are my pieces of advice to all students of marketing and branding – and a special piece of free advice to Change Capital and their investors.

1. Pizza East have done it, Franco Manca have done it, Pilgrims Pizza have done it. Rossopomodoro have failed. This is an evolved market, unless you can deliver something different and better than the existing offering, you have no purpose.

2. Deliver. Irrespective of your ingredients, if you have rude employees, locals will be gone and these businesses cannot grow sustainably on tourism alone. For sustainable growth and success you need loyalty. By alienating potential customers into brand terrorists is the worst kind of customer service; indeed it is criminal in this day and age that a customer complaint is just ignored.

3. When developing a brand or concept define your customer’s needs. If nobody needs your concept, don’t waste your time and money. It is now 55 years since Marketing Myopia and people still don’t get it!

And for Change Capital, the outcome of a balanced menu concept of Italian food aimed at the mass market – anyone for a Sbarro?

OL Jan 2015


2 thoughts on “Making Dough: Getting it right and wrong in pizza market positioning.

  1. Hi Oli,

    I was drawn to read this blog post, given that I myself am a self proclaimed world class pizza expert. Yes, I have been to Naples to sample the delights of the city. No, not the horrendous deep fried street pizza but the original Pizzeria Brandi.

    Anyway, you make some good points in the blog and I can feel the seethe flowing from the words. Nothing worse than bad customer service, nothing worse than being ignored and certainly nothing worse than a slimy pizza. Looks like you hit the trifecta….

    Im not sure if the photo at the bottom is of the pizza in question, but if it is then it doesnt look THAT bad -a decent looking crust and yes a touch slimy, but melting mozzarella(not dry) does do this even in the original city.

    keep the blogs coming, always a good read and hope your well.

    david copeland

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