Thursday, March 2, 2017

How Domino’s Became the Pizza for the People

The act of ordering Domino’s can be described only as a sublime experience. I open my computer and hit the bookmark that takes me to the sleek homepage. I log in to my personal pizza profile, and, with just one click, I pay for my pepperoni pan pizza with extra sauce, baked, well done. Then I sit back, watch the online tracker, and think of nothing else as it broadcasts the updates: Isabel puts my pizza in the oven. Darien executes the quality check. Moe carries it to the car and brings it to me. Then the real experience begins.

My two hands grab the box and open it hastily. Gratification is near. The cheese and swirls of sauce threaten to drip over the edge of the thick, buttery crust. I take a bite before it cools. The rush of fat and oil and robust tomato sauce and butter hit my tongue and light up my pleasure centers. Another bite. Another slice. A whole pie. Domino’s satisfies in a way nothing else can. Tell me, when’s the last time a Papa John’s pizza ever did that for you?

I’m firmly in Domino’s target demographic, if not a dream user. I ordered from the chain all the time as a college student, and following a brief separation, I continue to order Domino’s even though I’m an adult with a working knowledge of nutrition and a tendency toward heartburn. I ride for Domino’s like Jay Z rides for Beyoncé. (...)

Ruby Tandoh, 2013 Great British Bake Off contestant and cookbook author, agrees. “I’m not a legit Domino’s connoisseur but I’ve liked it every time I’ve had it,” she says. “I can say with pretty much complete certainty that part of the reason for this is because it is the anti-pizza. It’s the anti-artisanal, anti-natural, anti-handmade, anti-thin crust pizza. It’s … the pizza emoji pizza. I love it.”

Even “real New Yorkers” are believers. Manhattan-based lawyer in the food and drink industry Jasmine Moy ordered Domino’s for the first time four months ago and was an immediate fan. “Listen, I’m a New Yorker, I know pizza. But I will say that pan pizza showed up and I thought it was not awful. I actually sort of liked it. Now I have a craving for it. The bread dough is almost like a focaccia … it’s crispy and it’s oily and it’s pretty delicious.” Now she and her boyfriend order a Supreme Pan Pizza with jalapeños every other week. He is a “Domino’s freak,” she says, and she’s becoming one too.

Thanks to unofficial celebrity endorsements from Allison Williams and Nigella Lawson and changes to its recipes, nobody needs to be ashamed of their fervent love (or even casual tolerance) for Domino’s pizza. Armed with the signature pan pizza and stock currently trading at $186 per share, the chain has earned enough fans that all who order no longer need to call it a guilty pleasure. It’s just a pleasure. And the fans are more like fanatics.

I am the first to admit that there’s a part of being a Domino’s enthusiast that is painful. It makes you feel a little terrible inside. I’m not talking about psychologically; it’s like your organs are protesting. Maybe that’s why Domino’s has made it its mission in the past six or seven years to shamelessly pander to fans (or maybe because it’s really profitable). Regardless of motive, Domino’s major innovations since 2009 have not only increased sales, but they’ve also inspired fanaticism and viral discussion of the brand — except for maybe the introduction of salad. “There have been some misses,” admits chief marketing officer Joe Jordan.

In 2008, sales were at an all-time low. Its stock was worth $4 a share. A national taste test indicated that consumers considered it on par with Chuck E. Cheese’s in terms of taste. That’s dark. Sure, you could get it fast; the company was still well known for its 30-minutes-or-less guarantee. But what good was fast delivery if the crust tasted like cardboard and the sauce tasted like ketchup, as focus groups reported? (Let me ask you that again when you’re stoned.) Domino’s knew its pizza was bad, and this is where the brand’s revival story began.

The company made a few key changes starting in 2008. First, it released the Pizza Tracker, which gamified pizza ordering and, according to an unofficial poll I conducted, is the most beloved part of the Domino’s experience. (Moy, her boyfriend, and even a friend who doesn’t really like Domino’s agree on that.) It also set Domino’s up as the most technologically advanced pizza chain, a spirit that it’s continued by allowing people to order by emoji, working with Samsung to allow voice-ordering through smart TVs, and introducing drone deliveries in New Zealand.

The following year, the company launched its “new and inspired” pizza, a recipe that required 18 months and millions of dollars to perfect: 100 percent real mozzarella, flavored with a hint of provolone; a sweeter, bolder tomato sauce with herbs and red pepper; and a garlic-seasoned crust with parsley baked in.

But changing the pizza wasn’t enough. The company wanted to inspire people to return to the brand.

by Allison P. Davis, The Ringer |  Read more:
Image: Xenia Latii