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Nov 10, 2014 8:50 AM

Pizza Hut's revamp: Curry crusts, balsamic drizzle

The Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) Pizza Hut is letting customers play mad scientist, giving them the freedom to make pies with honey Sriracha sauce or add curry flavor to the crusts.

The reworked menu is one of several major moves at old-standby restaurant chains, including Red Lobster and Olive Garden, as they try to adjust to changing tastes. Many customers, especially millennials, have turned their backs on chain restaurants and are demanding more variety, exotic flavors and higher-quality food.

Pizza Hut's atypical flavors and new ingredients are part of a menu overhaul announced Monday set to hit stores Nov. 19. Executives are hoping the revamp which includes an updated logo and more relaxed uniforms for workers will be the trick that finally jumpstarts sales.

Pizza Hut, which is owned by Louisville, Kentucky-based Yum Brands Inc. and based in Plano, Texas, has reported sales declines for eight straight quarters at established locations, even as rivals Domino's and Papa John's have enjoyed gains.

To regain its footing, Pizza Hut is turning to a growing trend in the industry: giving people greater flexibility to tailor orders exactly to their tastes. The popularity of places like Chipotle that let people select toppings has prompted a variety of chains to play up their own customization options.

In the pizza business, competition is also increasing from fast-growing chains like Blaze Pizza, which touts fresh ingredients and cook pizzas to order right in front of customers. Chipotle itself it testing a pizzeria called Pizzeria Locale.

Even McDonald's, whose consistency helped make it the king of fast food, is testing a format in California that lets people build their own burgers by picking the bun, patty and toppings they want.

Pizza Hut is still keeping its most popular pies on the menu, such as the Meat Lover's and Veggie Lover's, while adding 11 new specialty pizzas and a section of "Skinny" pies that are lower in calories. But for people who like to design their own, it's giving them yet more ways to do so at no extra cost.

For the base sauce, people will be able pick from six options, including marinara, garlic parmesan and honey Sriracha. They can also add swirl of flavor to their pies, picking from four "drizzles" including balsamic and buffalo.

And they'll be able to brush pie crusts with one of 10 flavors, including salted pretzel and fiery red pepper. Two of the crust flavors will be updated regularly, with "Ginger Boom Boom" and "Curried Away" being the first limited-time offerings.

Carrie Walsh, Pizza Hut's chief marketing officer, said she expects the majority of customers to take advantage of the new options, even if it's just requesting a parmesan crust on a Meat Lover's pie.

The chain is also adding more toppings, including banana peppers, cherry peppers and spinach. Standard toppings are also being renamed to make them more appealing; black olives, for instance, will be called "Mediterranean black olives" and red onions will be renamed "fresh red onions," although the ingredients are the same.

The chain's famous red roof logo will be also tweaked so that it's white against a swirling red circle. And worker uniforms will switch to jeans and T-shirt, rather than a polo shirt with black pants.

"It's a signal to America there's a big change at Pizza Hut," Walsh said.


Follow Candice Choi at www.twitter.com/candicechoi


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