By Bruce Horovits, USA TODAY
A large pizza is about to cost you about the same as a big burger.
On Wednesday, Pizza Hut, the nation's largest pizza chain, will roll out for a limited time, a $5.55 large pizza with one topping promotion. While the chain is using its 55th anniversary as the promotional hook for the lower-than-low price, fast-food consultants say the real driver is tough competition in fast-food industry in general and the chain pizza business in particular.
The Pizza Hut promo will take place for 10 days from June 5 to the 15th. It's good only on carry out pizzas -- not on delivery. All 6,300 Pizza Hut locations in the U.S. will offer the promo. A large, one-topping home-delivered pizza from Pizza Hut typically costs about $11, plus $2.00 to $3.00 for the delivery fees.
The move comes at a time when pugnacious rival Little Caesars is offering $5 Hot n' Ready pizzas and an $8 Deep Dish pizza. Fast-food sales continue to waver in a tough economy. On top of that, summertime is the season when pizza sales -- which excel in the colder fall and winter seasons -- typically head south.
So, pizza chains must rely on new products or clever promos to spark sales.
"We believe it's the most aggressive offer of the year in the pizza industry," says Doug Terfehr, a Pizza Hut spokesman. "It's the new age of the flash deal."
While the deal is only good on carry-out pizza sales, Terfehr says in the current economy, that's Pizza Hut's fastest-growing business and now accounts for a majority of its sales.
One fast food PR guru says it's all about luring in business for a chain whose sales have been mostly flat in 2013. "For Pizza Hut, it's a value play disguised as a company milestone," says Derek Farley, president of DFPR. "Consumers could care less about the anniversary, but they will act on the promotion because of the price."
That $5-ish price-tag is key. Just as Subway has made a franchise off of its $5 sub sandwiches, the pizza giants are all trying to figure out how to sell $5 large pizzas. Some CiCi's Pizza Buffets offer $5 buffet deals. Little Caesars offers the $5 Hot-N-Ready pizzas. And now, Pizza Hut is experimenting with a $5.55 large with one topping.
"If the consumer needs something that gives them permission to experiment with a brand, $5 is the magic number," says Farley. "It is consistently the threshold that reinforces the idea of a deal."
Of course, Pizza Hut hopes consumers also purchase a few sides and beverages. "That's when $5 becomes $12, and the company wins," says Farley
That said, Pizza Hut executives expect business to boom. "There is no record of our pizza prices being this low for decades," says Terfehr. "It's safe to say, most Americans have never seen a deal like this before from Pizza Hut."