Pieology is a 140-unit fast casual pizza chain serving build-your-own pies. They recently added Gardein plant-based meat toppings to their menu.
Pieology attracts new customers with Gardein pizza toppings
After the launch of three new plant-based protein toppings, Pieology sees a new audience coming in
Q: What are the plant-based options available at Pieology?
Bailey: Currently we have our three new plant-based toppings and we’ve had Daiya cheese for at least a few years. We also have a gluten free crust that is completely vegan. Our cauliflower crust is not vegan as it has eggs and cheese in it, but flexitarians are a big fan of it. We use brown rice because it has refined carbohydrates, it’s lighter, and tastes just like traditional pizza. That’s the core of our [plant-based] offerings today, but we’re always looking to really provide a new array of healthier options for out guests.
Q: What was the motivation behind launching the three new plant-based toppings?
Bailey: My team led the charge to roll out these awesome new plant-based protein toppings and be the first major national pizza chain to offer plant-based proteins in this space. The business factor behind that decision is that we are always looking to appeal to a wider audience and provide our existing guests with a wide array of high quality healthy options. We learned from being very receptive to customer feedback on social media, in surveys, etc. as well as asking what is a segment that we could do an even better job of appealing to today. The convergence of those data points led us to the conclusion that we had a great opportunity to expand that area. After trying a variety of different offerings from different companies we landed on the offerings we have today because of the overall quality, taste, the way it delivers on pizza, and customer feedback.
Q: What are the three new plant-based toppings and who is the supplier?
Bailey: We partnered with Gardein and featured them for this specific product. We worked with them to launch their newest formulation, the Spicy Italian Sausage Rounds is a completely new product for them and is performing really well for us and people really like it. We also have their Italian Meatball and their Diced Chicken.
The products are made from a combination of pea and soy protein. The Spicy Italian Sausage Rounds have 14g of protein on average for a 3 oz. serving, the Italian Meatball also has 14g of protein, and the Diced Chicken has 20g of protein. 3oz. is what we recommend as it’s the amount that covers a pizza, so it’s a really good healthy serving of protein especially if it’s the only protein someone is getting.
Q: Based on what has happened with this launch, are there any plans to offer more plant-based ingredients or items in the future?
Bailey: Absolutely, we’re always actively exploring what’s the next best high quality thing in this space. We feel like plant proteins have come a long way recently where overall quality, taste, flavor profiles, and texture is honestly amazing. The word we hear the most is “surprising”. Even in our own experience when we started this journey everything was surprisingly delicious and approachable.
Even people who are complete carnivore meat eaters and those that are not flexitarian but want to try a new type of protein can enjoy these because they have that much appeal, flavor, and mouthfeel — it just becomes part of your pizza. As that growing audience continues to evolve we’re constantly looking for how we can bring the next high quality item to market.
Q: Are you doing anything in particular that’s been effective to increase the trial from first time consumers who aren’t as familiar with plant-based proteins?
Bailey: We did a national push to our Pie Life Rewards members (our loyalty database) for all of our locations across the country. Members were offered a free 1 oz. plant protein upgrade at no cost. We also promoted it on social and all other channels so people could get that offer even if they were first time users and not on Pie Life Rewards.
The launch went well and we’re seeing a lot of folks that have friends, family, or coworkers who weren’t visiting Pieology as frequently before, but now that they know about this they’re bringing them along. If they were fully vegan we had the gluten-free crust, Daiya cheese, and a whole amazing array of fresh vegetables, but we didn’t have anything on the high-protein side. Now we’re no longer missing that component for them, and they can truly get a full pizza any way they want to make it. If they still want to go heavy on the vegetables they can, but if they want to go heavier on the protein they can now do that too. I think that complete offering is what sets us apart.
Q: Is there any monetary advantage to having these types of ingredients on the menu?
Bailey: Our intention was to have a high-quality offering. In this space, there is a large range of offerings, some are very bland with no taste, flavor, mouthfeel, or appeal. You could easily say you have a plant-based offering but that’s not really giving what we consider a quality Pieology experience. We were disciplined in selecting partners and tried different products that we made sure delivered amazing taste and benefit. The reality is high quality products cost more, it’s a tier that commands a higher price. So we went with a product that we felt would give our guests the best of what we could do while offering it at a reasonable price. We’re about providing folks with a great solution but we’re also a business so it needs to make sense. It is a premium-tier topping, so it’s $1 per 1 oz. just like we normally charge for premium tier toppings.
Q: How has the sales response been to the toppings since their introduction?
Bailey: The toppings are performing well, they continue to grow and have an upwards trajectory as more people find out about it.
Q: Are the plant-based offerings attracting new consumers to your restaurant?
Bailey: Absolutely, we are definitely seeing new trial and new audience come in with this. We’re able to measure that based off from social activity, guest survey, intercepts, and other channels. We’re definitely seeing new guests come into our restaurant that have not before.
Q: From an operational standpoint, are plant-based items easier or harder to store/prepare/serve?
Bailey: It’s not really harder, we did all the operational testing and vetting of it. The product comes in frozen so it has a very healthy shelf life at its frozen state. It’s life in a non-frozen state is also reasonable. Another benefit is that these products are par-cooked already, which is important from a health and safety perspective, it makes it easier for operators to handle, maintain, and make sure it is safe for our guests.
Q: From a staff standpoint, did you have to do separate training for plant-based ingredients?
Bailey: From the labor side, it’s not anything more. One of the things that is different for us that we had to adjust to was the change within one of our three different stations. We have sauce and cheese station where guests start the line and are asked what ingredients they’d like and if they’d like to upgrade to a premium ingredient. Then they move on to the veggie station, where that individual was not someone who was upselling before this launch. Because of this premium topping in the veggie section, that person has now elevated to engage more with the guests. They’re asking the guests if they’d like to try some of our premium plant-based protein and they communicate information about the toppings. Then they move on to meat and the register. It increased complexity but not labor.
Q: How are your plant-based toppings displayed on your menu? Is it listed with other premium tiers, or are they by themselves?
Bailey: Currently they’re in a distinct category. We very intentionally put them in their own row, highlighted by a bright green strip in the veggie section of the menu. We used POP and other advertising to help differentiate it from everything to truly help people realize it is something unique, especially since it looks so much like the real thing.
Q: Daiya has been on the menu for awhile, has that been growing recently over the past couple of years?
Bailey: Daiya sales and usage have been pretty steady, we only keep things on the line if we get good sales volume and usage out of it.
Q: Any final thoughts you’d like to share?
Bailey: Overall, our whole concept around this launch was just to give people the freedom to be able to customize and choose what they want, and that’s what Pieology is all about. A lot of other brands and competitors in the pizza space tend to offer new toppings and offer them on a prebuilt pizza or other entrees, but we took the opposite angle on that. We wanted to really showcase that this is your canvas to make your own ultimate creation. We’re excited that we continue to innovate and offer more of that freedom for our vegan, vegetarian, and flexitarian guests.