Pizza Hut Goes Old School for Its Next Pie Innovations

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This handout photo provided by Pizza Hut,  shows a hand-tossed pizza.  Pizza Hut announced Monday, Jan. 13, 2014, it plans to start offering pizza by the slice for the first time in two test locations this week, as the chain looks to keep pace with trendy competitors offering quick, made-to-order pies. (AP Photo/Pizza Hut)
It's OK to say that Pizza Hut is full of hot air when it comes to its latest marketing move. It almost certainly won't mind.

Yum! Brands' (YUM) iconic Pizza Hut introduced a new crust for its hand-tossed pizzas on Thursday. Instead of stuffing crusts with various types of cheese or even pepperoni as it has done in the past, Pizza Hut is promoting the fact that its new hand-tossed pizzas now feature a more airy texture.

Pumping more air into the dough is supposed to give the pies less of a cookie-cutter appearance, an unusual choice among chains that sell themselves on their consistency. Every snowflake is unique, but every chain order is supposed to be uniform across the various locations. It's what customers expect.

However, just as the term "hand-tossed" conveys a personal touch, having a few more air pockets in the pizzas should generate some retro charm akin to an indie pizzeria. So Pizza Hut is proud of the "noticeable imperfections" of the new pies.

It's not that big of a gamble. The rest of Pizza Hut's menu options will remain the same. If this move doesn't "pan" out, it can be quickly replaced with the next evolutionary step of crust stuffing in the pizza giant's playbook.

Pizza Hut doesn't stand still, even if it's odd to find it stuffing its pies with air.

Pizza Hut is Bigger Than You Think

There are more than 14,000 Pizza Hut locations across 100 different countries, making the chain a major component of the Yum! Brands family that also includes Taco Bell and KFC. It could also use a boost. Comparable-store sales at domestic Pizza Hut locations slipped 1 percent in Yum! Brands' latest quarter.

%VIRTUAL-article-sponsoredlinks%These are competitive times, and for Pizza Hut, the challenge now is about more than beefing up its delivery business to compete with Papa John's (PZZA) and Domino's (DPZ), which seem to always have some ridiculous price promotion going on. (This is a business that has become cutthroat enough that Pizza Hut even feels the need to explicitly offer full refunds on the new air-blown pies if customers aren't satisfied.)

No, the potentially even bigger threat comes from the fast-casual pizza movement. Chipotle Mexican Grill (CMG) and Buffalo Wild Wings (BWLD) have recently invested in the niche, and Pizza Hut doesn't want to be left out in the cold.

Slicing a New Path

It's not just air-puffed hand-tossed pizzas on the menu. Pizza Hut turned heads on Tuesday by introducing two stores that will specialize in selling pizzas by the slice, like New York style pizzerias (or Sbarro), to be eaten there or on the go.

Pizza Hut has offered small personal pan pizzas for ages, but selling slices gives the company a way to cash in on the fast casual trend of customers who want to enjoy a quick meal without having to flag down a server to pay the check. The two new concept stores will still offer the Pizza Hut staples, but the real draw will be the pizza "bar" that quickly dispenses slices as they're ordered.

Competitive moves: We'll see if they make the dough rise.

Best Fast Food Values
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Pizza Hut Goes Old School for Its Next Pie Innovations
Always searching for the best deal around, we asked our readers to name the fast food items they thought delivered the best bang for the buck. We tallied up more than one hundred thousand votes and come up with winners! So click through to see who WalletPop fans picked for the best meal deals...
What is your best bet for a buck? Our readers think it's Burger King's value menu burger choices, with 36%, just squeaking out a victory over McDonald's, with 35% of the vote. Wendy's came in third with 29%.
Whoppers may come from Burger King, but McDonald's had something of a whopping victory in the breakfast category, snatching up 61% of the vote for the heft and value of an Egg McMuffin. A faraway second was Burger King's Croissan'wich, with 17% of the votes, followed by Dunkin' Donuts egg white flatbreads (9%), Starbucks oatmeal (3%) and Cosi's croissant omelet (2%).
The coffee wars at fast food joints are constantly finding new battlegrounds. Our latest salvo: McDonald's being crowned best value, with 40% of the popular vote. Dunkin' Donuts was not far behind, with 33%, followed by Starbucks (13%), Wendy's (7%), Burger King (7%) and Cosi (0%).
When it comes to fast food fries, McDonald's usually has everyone beat, and this poll was no different: McDonald's scored 63%, while Burger King lead the runners up with 14%; Wendy's (10%), KFC (6%) and Hardee's and Sonic (each 4%).
While Burger King might have taken the crown for best burger on the dollar menu, McDonald's won the race for best full-size burger meal value with 39%, followed by Burger King (34%) and Wendy's (27%).
Chicken sandwiches used to be overlooked in tales of fast food competition, but there's a huge chicken surge happening lately as people are eating healthier. Who's on top for value? Our readers say it's Wendy's, with 24% of the vote, followed by Chick-fil-A (23%), McDonald's (21%), Burger King (16%), KFC (13%) and Hardee's (3%).
If you've got kids, where's the best place to take them to get them full for less? Our readers say McDonald's, as 48% voted the chain the best spot to get value nuggets (and a toy). Runners up: KFC (17%), Wendy's (14%), Burger King (12%), Taco Bell (5%), Hardee's (4%).
New Mexican fast-food chains are popping up all over the place, but it seems our readers prefer the value of the industry leader: Taco Bell. The chain garnered 65% of the vote, followed by Chipotle (16%), El Pollo Loco and Baja Fresh (6% each), Taco Bueno (4%) and Taco Cabana (3%).
Healthy items are some of the most expensive ones on fast food menus, so what is the best buy? Our readers picked Wendy's salads by far, with 37% of the vote, followed by McDonald's (30%), Long John Silver's (11%), Taco Bell (9%), Burger King (7%) and KFC (6%).
While Wendy's Frosty had the early lead, Dunkin' Donuts came from behind to win as best dessert value, with 33% of our vote. Wendy's ended up with 28%, McDonald's with 20%, Burger King with 12% and the bottom was filled out by Taco Bell (4%) and KFC (3%).

Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Buffalo Wild Wings and Chipotle Mexican Grill. The Motley Fool owns shares of Buffalo Wild Wings, Chipotle Mexican Grill, and Papa John's International. Try any of our newsletter services free for 30 days.
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