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Where does pizza at FECs and Chuck E. Cheese’s fall in the four pizza groups?

Chuck E. Cheese’s new owners, Apollo Global Management, aim to grow sales by pleasing grown-ups’ palates. They want the place where a kid can be a kid also to be the place where mom can get a cappuccino and dad can chow down on an artisan-style like pizza.

The chain’s push toward an adult-pleasing menu, including new pizza, comes as the pizza industry nationwide is raising the bar.

For example, this last November, Pizza Hut, the nation’s largest pizza chain, announced the most expansive brand update in the company’s half-century history including menu additions that mirror items seen at artisan pizza shops and at the new fast-casual players.

Michigan-based consultant Big Dave Ostrander says the pizza market is dividing into four distinct groups.

“I think that there’s going to be three big winners when it’s all said and done,” said Ostrander, a frequent pizza contest judge and presenter at Pizza Expos. “No. 1 will be the very highest quality providers, (restaurateurs) that just make a fantastic pizza. No. 2 is going to be the lowest cost provider, and we all know who they are.

“The third ones are the fast-casual types. Some of it is above average to very good,” he added. “The rest are going to be slugging it out for the same customers.”

That means more competition in the middle of the pack, where many consumers now place Chuck E. Cheese’s and most FEC pizza.

“I eat pizza a lot,” Ostrander added. “I haven’t eaten their [CEC’s] pizza in a long time. I don’t think they’d win gold, silver or bronze in the competitions I’ve judged.”

Of course, Ostrander hasn’t tried CEC’s new pizza. We’ll have to give it some time to find out whether Chuck E. Cheese’s has successfully repositioned their pizza to a competitive positive.

Most family entertainment centers are as far behind pizza trends as CEC was until their new menu. The new fast-casual pizza chains that are rapidly expanding into every market are quickly raising consumers’ expectation levels for pizza. These chains are assembling fresh-made, fresh-dough (choices typically include regular, thin-crust, whole-wheat thin crust and gluten-free), customizable pizzas right in front of customers in the same style as Chipotle’s front line, often delivering the final product in five minutes.

Fast casual pizza chains FECs

The preassembled frozen pizzas and par-baked pizza crust pizzas that many FECs continue to offer have now fallen to the bottom of the barrel in terms of quality in the minds most consumers. In fact, many of the frozen pizzas you can now buy in the supermarket are better. Consumers today also now expect pizzas to be prepared in plain sight, often in stone-hearth ovens for the gourmet pizzas, not behind closed kitchen doors (CEC is still behind the eight ball on this).

Most FECs need to wake up and get with it, or they will see drastic revenue declines no different than Chuck E. Cheese’s has seen over the years due to their behind the times, non-adult appealing pizza. In today’s out-of-home entertainment market, the food and beverage has become as important of an anchor attraction as the entertainment. Offering subpar food, including pizza, based on new contemporary expectations is now a detriment to success.

About Randy White

Randy White is CEO and co-founder of the White Hutchinson Leisure & Learning Group. The 31-year-old company, with offices in Kansas City, Missouri, has worked for over 600 clients in 37 countries throughout the world. Projects the company has designed and produced have won seventeen 1st place awards. Randy is considered to be one of the world's foremost authorities on feasibility, brand development, design and production of leisure experience destinations including entertainment, eatertainment, edutainment, agritainment/agritourism, play and leisure facilities.

Randy was featured on the Food Network's Unwrapped television show as an eatertainment expert, quoted as an entertainment/edutainment center expert in the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, New York Times and Time magazine and received recognition for family-friendly designs by Pizza Today magazine. One of the company's projects was featured as an example of an edutainment project in the book The Experience Economy. Numerous national newspapers have interviewed him as an expert on shopping center and mall entertainment and retail-tainment.

Randy is a graduate of New York University. Prior to repositioning the company in 1989 to work exclusively in the leisure and learning industry, White Hutchinson was active in the retail/commercial real estate industry as a real estate consultancy specializing in workouts/turnarounds of commercial projects. In the late 1960s to early 1980s, Randy managed a diversified real estate development company that developed, owned and managed over 2.0 million square feet of shopping centers and mixed-use projects and 2,000 acres of residential subdivisions. Randy has held the designations of CSM (Certified Shopping Center Manager) and Certified Retail Property Executive (CRX) from the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC).

He has authored over 150 articles that have been published in over 40 leading entertainment/leisure and early childhood education industry magazines and journals and has been a featured speaker and keynoter at over 40 different conventions and trade groups.

Randy is the editor of his company's Leisure eNewsletter, has a blog and posts on Twitter and Linkedin.

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