Pizza Express is undertaking intense menu development work to ensure that it builds as much variety into its offering as possible to accommodate consumers’ changing tastes.
Last September the company introduced a comprehensive vegan menu, which has proved highly successful, and it remains focused on ensuring that its proposition reflects what customers want when eating out.
Food and beverage director, Jane Treasure, says that Pizza Express has a cycle of timing for all of its menu changes and knows at the beginning of the year when they are going to occur.
On average it tends to work six to 12 months in advance given the enormity of producing a menu fit for roll-out across 500 UK stores.
“We know that the vegan trend has been growing and we know that it is important to us and our customers,” she said. “I think it is really important for vegans and vegetarians that they don’t just turn up and get one choice and everyone else gets pages and pages of choice. We have really started to build choice in, and not just in the pizza space but in other parts of the menu as well, so September was a big launch for us that started six to 12 months earlier.”
Asked how much analysis is involved in producing a new menu and whether the company is permanently scrutinising restaurant data, she said: “You are always balancing things up — when do you just go and talk to customers, when do you commission a significant piece of insight, when do you look at your commercial numbers, how much do you listen to your teams? You get a read very quickly from teams.
“Then there is the information you get from your suppliers to help you horizon-plan and look to the future. Sometimes you do need a dedicated piece of insight to really tease out things that you just couldn’t get elsewhere and sometimes you just need to sit down and talk to people. There is a lot of information and some of it is more useful than others.”
When developing new menu items, it is critical for any chain to make sure that its kitchens will be able to assemble dishes easily and consistently.
Mrs Treasure said that the set-up of Pizza Express’ back-of-house operations leaves them well-placed to operationally handle any menu tweaks.
“I think one of the things that I was most surprised about with our kitchen [upon joining the business last year] is how simple is it. You have got the oven, the pizzaiolo and the ingredients. That is it. There are a few knives and a few chopping boards. In some ways when I started I thought that would actually make it harder, but it doesn’t. It is a very genuine, simple space. There is not a huge amount of processing — the dough is proved, stretched and topped. You are always looking for new pieces of kit and things that can make it easier for the operator, but I think most of the solutions and answers are generally with the operator.”
Pizza Express’ menu development work is now carried out at a state-of-the-art Global Innovation Centre, which it opened in London.