Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Pizza chains see America changing

A flurry of recent nrn.com stories didn’t appear to have much of a connection beyond the mention in each of pizza. Yet the shared mindset given away by another common term suggests they’re actually as interwoven as the potholder a 7-year-old fashions at summer camp. Taken as a group, they’re strong evidence that the pizza posse is the first segment of the business to realize truly and zealously the potential of the Hispanic market.

And, most important of all, a number of chains in that sector are actually doing something about it. The industry has been squawking about the opportunity since right after Columbus arrived. Yet it took the apparent success of a concept that dared to leave the conga line and move to its own beat for others to give some bold moves a try.

Let’s pick it up with the story posted a few weeks ago about Peter Piper Pizza being purchased by a private equity company that specializes in businesses serving the Hispanic trade. The buyer, Washington, D.C.-based ACON Investments, indicated that it would intensify the Southwestern chain’s focus on Latinos. “We see a terrific opportunity to take advantage of the continued growth and expanding purchasing power of the Hispanic population,” ACON managing partner Daniel Jinich said in a statement announcing the deal, without revealing how much he and his partners paid for the 130-unit chain.

Now jump to today’s batch of news stories. You’ll find one about Pizza Hut adding a feature to the Spanish-language version of its website that allows visitors to order online, as far in advance as a week of when they want their pies. It’s likely to be a real boon for people planning a family gathering or other sizeable get-togethers.

No doubt the chain was “inspired” by the success that arch-rival Papa John’s says it’s had with a very similar set-up. That organization added the service in October.

In our Financial News section, you’ll see why so many pizza chains have suddenly become infatuated with the Hispanic market. For reasons that may have more to do with soliciting expansion partners than informing financial ones, privately held Pizza Patron disclosed that October-through-December sales at its units had shot past the tally for the last quarter of 2005 by an average of 34.6 percent. In case you’re not familiar with the concept, Pizza Patron (pronounced pa-trone, not pay-trin) was conceived as a brand that would serve Hispanic consumers and communities.

As we reported last week, as part of that effort, the chain undertook a limited-time offer in which it accepted pesos as well as dollars. It drew scathing criticism from people who believed it was pandering to illegal immigrants, but the brand let its targeted clientele know that it’s serving them.

And now, as we’ll likely to continue to report in coming weeks, it’s hardly alone in undertaking that mission.

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