Pizza Express is trialling sharing dishes in more than 30 of its restaurants as part of a menu extension exercise that could end up being rolled out across its nationwide estate.
The chain is adamant that it must retain its pizza leadership, which currently sees its kitchens serve up more than 21 million pizzas a year. But it is also conscious of the fact that it needs to innovate its menus, particularly given the level of competition it now faces in the casual dining sector.
The trial taps into what has been referred to as the ‘deregulated eating’ trend — the notion that consumers increasingly prefer to graze, share food and eat smaller, multiple portions.
UK and Ireland managing director, Zoe Bowley, explained: “We have just launched what we are calling our ‘Piattini’ trial — you will still come in for your favourite pizza but you will be able to share small dishes that are in the spirit of Italian pizzerias, but actually just allow people to eat in a different way.”
The trial has been extended to 33 restaurants so far, Mrs Bowley confirmed.
“The early indications are very strong around how people will come to us for what they want but get a little bit more. And what’s important is we always have ‘pizza plus’ in our business. You will always come for your pizza but we will innovate on top of that. It will never be something plus pizza, because pizza leadership is where we have to remain.”
Pizza Express’ menu development teams remain hard at work, coming up with new toppings and combinations that they think will prove a hit with customers and tap into key trends.
Seasonally changing menus, incorporating new additions such as Romana Barbecoa and Chocolate Fondant, have proved popular. Additionally, its vegan pizza scooped an industry award — “we waited until we found exactly the right cheese for that one,” — while its gluten-free dishes have been accredited by Coeliac UK.
“Health and wellbeing is hugely on the radar for this industry and for consumers, and that is something that we are very committed to,” said Mrs Bowley, who was speaking at the recent Casual Dining Show.
She said the chain also sells “thousands” of legacy pizzas every week that aren’t currently on its menus but which customers request.