Becoming the world's largest pizza restaurant chain is no small feat. Pizza Hut has achieved this by not only serving the authentic Italian pizzas that have made it a household name, but by always offering localised recipes that cater to the diverse tastes of its many customers.
"To be successful in more than 100 countries we offer the best of both worlds," says Beatrice Kwok, director of supplies and product development, and human resources, Pizza Hut Hong Kong Management Limited. "We always have the pizzas that everyone knows, no matter where the restaurant is located. We also have recipes that conform to each country's culture. For example, in Singapore you can find spicy choices like spicy chicken chunks as a pizza topping, whereas in India there is Tandoori chicken and, for religious regions, there are no beef toppings." Pizza Hut Hong Kong in turn, is notable for its Thousand Island sauce based pizza selections and baked rice.
Pizza Hut uses a systematic approach to new product development to make sure that its menu choices find their way to the hearts and stomachs of customers, and to promote brand identity and quality control.
"A single-store operator can roll out new dishes quickly because the management chain is generally quite short," Ms Kwok explains. "For a multi-national restaurant brand like Pizza Hut, however, alignment of services and quality is a core concern and menu options must be in sync with advertising. We need to take into account the global image of the brand. Therefore, it takes a methodical and meticulous development strategy for a new creation to earn its place on the table."
The role of product development at Pizza Hut is crucial — it ensures the needs of customers are met, so the first step in the process is to understand the customers. To do this the company carries out research in the form of surveys, questionnaires and interviews.
Following this a number of practical issues are considered before turning ideas into reality. "We calculate production cost of the recipe and also look closely at the supplies of ingredients because supplies have a significant impact on availability and profitability," Ms Kwok says.
Beyond financial and business concerns, the most important issue for Pizza Hut in deciding whether or not to add a new item to the menu is taste. "Even if initial research indicated people want a particular food and all the numbers add up, we must make sure the finished product tastes good," Ms Kwok notes. "After all, that's why people come to Pizza Hut."
Taste-testing takes place both in-house and among members of the public, and it is conducted by an independent research house to ensure objectivity. "The taste tests allow us to go back and reformulate the product if necessary without compromising the quality of our brand or disappointing customers," Ms Kwok adds.
A new creation is launched only if it passes through every step in the product development process successfully, but even then uncertainties cannot be eliminated. "Not all products can succeed even though we adopt such a rational approach to product development," Ms Kwok says. "This is the nature of the business."
In addition to updating its menu, Pizza Hut implemented an array of initiatives to encourage continuous growth of the business. A recent initiative is the enhanced dine-in (EDI) concept. "The EDI concept aims to reposition the brand from a quick service restaurant to one that delivers an upgraded dine-in experience at an affordable price," Ms Kwok explains. "To this end, many things have been revamped including the store design and the menu which has expanded from 200 items to more than 400 selections, giving customers a complete European sensation and a comfortable ambience to literally 'share a slice of life' with friends and family members. At the same time, we continue to be the largest pizza delivery chain in Hong Kong."
To aid in the upgrading and meet the demand of its 79 outlets in Hong Kong, Ms Kwok says many new employees are required. For candidates with management skills and business acumen the company offers a manager trainee programme. "This programme develops leaders that will take our company to new heights," Ms Kwok says. "Candidates first acquire a comprehensive understanding of the day-to-day business of running a restaurant or a store, and then there is a clear progression path leading to senior management."
Ms Kwok says Pizza Hut offers a rewarding long-term career. "Lots of teamwork is involved in restaurant operations so our staff get to interact with each other and subsequently enjoy a high degree of job satisfaction. This particular practice is aligned with our 'How We Win Together' culture. Moreover, we invest heavily in staff training and encourage open communication so that employees can make valuable contributions to the running of the company. We want our staff to develop a sense of ownership towards the company. That way, they like their work and treat customers well so everyone is happy."