Just like the burger industry was disrupted by the “better burger movement,” a rising wave of new fast-casual pizza chains have formed what can be thought of as the “better pizza movement.” Riding high on this rising pizza tide is Blaze Pizza, whose tag line explains the concept: Fast-Fire’d Custom Built Artisanal Pizzas.
Here are 21 things you should know about the changing landscape of the pizza industry in general and Blaze Pizza in particular:
The Pizza Industry
1. Market Size and Demand: Pizza restaurants generate $128 billion in sales around the world, but a full third of that market is in the United States, with each American eating an average of 46 slices of pizza each year. When it comes to comfort food, a recent Harris Poll revealed that pizza is the number-one choice of Americans, beating out both chocolate and ice cream, which tied for second place.
2. The Independents: There are more than 76,000 pizzerias in the U.S., and just over half of them (55%) are independent shops with less than 10 locations. But the independents only took in 42.5% of all pizza sales in 2016, which totaled nearly $44.5 billion.
3. The Chains: The chains (more than 10 locations) have the larger market share, which can be attributed at least in part to the fact that an increasing number of people (especially tech-savvy Millennials) want to place their pizza orders online, which can be prohibitively expensive for independents to implement.
4. Digital Orders Increase Sales: And when customers can place digital orders, they tend to spend more. Although there will always be people who are die-hard fans of their favorite independent pizzeria, when it comes to the business of making money at pizza, the chains are where it’s at.
5. Changing Preferences: Millennials, who often think of themselves as health-conscious, eco-friendly foodies, are sustaining the new wave of fast-casual pizza chains that produce customizable, artisan, individual-sized pizzas in under five minutes, and they also tend to focus on fresher, healthier ingredients with fewer negative eco-impacts.
What Fans Love About Blaze Pizza
6. Fresh Dough: Blaze Pizza never uses frozen dough. It’s made fresh and allowed to ferment a full 24 hours before getting shaped into a crust, giving Blaze pies their distinctive lighter-than-air crispness. Only a few simple ingredients are needed, including unbleached flour, extra-virgin olive oil, filtered water, salt, and a dash of sugar. Each thin-crust pie cooks in just 180 seconds in a 3-ton oven featuring a stone hearth and open flames on three sides.
7. Walking the Line: Similar to other assembly-line franchises such as Chipotle for burritos and Subway for submarine sandwiches, customers watch their pizza being assembled as they choose the toppings before it goes into the oven. Patrons choose from among seven proteins, 17 vegetables, seven cheeses, and 10 sauces to customize their personal pizza. They can also choose one of the chain’s nine signature pies. No matter how many toppings you choose, each pizza comes with the same reasonable price tag. Rounding out the menu are three signature salads, three tempting desserts, and an array of beverages including house-made lemonade.
8. Trained Pizzasmiths: Temperatures in the dome of a Blaze Pizza oven can reach upwards of 900℉, while floor temperatures range from 600℉ to 800℉. The “pizzasmiths” staffing the ovens are highly trained in how to rotate pizzas through the different heat zones to prevent burning. They make it look easy, but it’s a tricky business to get a fully-cooked pizza in just three minutes! But the results are simply superior to anything that can be achieved when you make a pizza in a conveyor oven.
9. Eco-Friendly Packaging Choices: As the company’s Our Beliefs page states, “…we’ve gone to great lengths to make sure that our packaging is recyclable, compostable, and/or made from post-consumer reclaimed materials. Forks, knives, cups, straws, lids — even those cute little containers that hold the salad dressing — were thoughtfully chosen because they left a smaller footprint than most commonly available choices.” Millennials and other eco-conscious patrons love that sort of thing.
10. Clean Ingredients: All Blaze Pizza ingredients are without artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives. This was no small feat and took many months of painstaking research in order to “nix the nitrates” from its cured meats like sausage and pepperoni; get rid of preservatives in its garlic and salad dressings; find “true hue” black olives and banana peppers without artificial colors; and make barbeque sauce without high fructose corn syrup.
11. Humane Ingredients: Meat and dairy ingredients come from animals raised humanely in the U.S. and Canada. The company supports the Five Freedoms principle proposed by the Farm Animal Welfare Council (FAWC), including freedom from hunger or thirst; freedom from discomfort; freedom from pain, injury, and disease; freedom to express normal behaviors; and freedom from fear or distress.
12. Fundraising: Blaze Pizza loves supporting local fundraising efforts. The store will provide customized flyers that you distribute to invite supporters to the event. During the event, guests present the flyers (printed out or on their cell phones) when they order their pizzas. After the event, Blaze Pizza puts a check in the mail for 20% of net sales that the event brought in, excluding alcohol sales.
13. The Ambience: Each location presents a hipster vibe with décor featuring industrial design with recycled and sustainable materials such as reclaimed wood along with energy-efficient LED lighting. It’s a sleek, modern, urban look with plenty of stainless steel. The idea is that the right environment and atmosphere enhance the overall experience.
14. Consumer Sentiment: In 2017, a Harris Poll about pizza chains best-loved by consumers ranked Blaze Pizza second only to Papa John’s (Pizza Hut came in third). Needless to say, it’s pretty amazing that an artisanal pizza startup is holding its own against the industry’s giants.
What Franchisees Love About Blaze Pizza
15. The Founder: Rick Wetzel brings his experience co-founding and growing the Wetzel’s Pretzels franchise to the Blaze Pizza table. It was 2011 when Rick and his wife Elise were looking to enjoy a pizza in a fast-casual approach but couldn’t find anything. What better way to remedy the situation than by starting their own concept? The rest, as they say, is fast-casual pizza history!
16. The Pizza Whisperer: The Wetzels enlisted the help of Bradford Kent to perfect an 11-inch thin-crust pizza from fresh-made dough. His expertise is a major factor behind the success of the chain, and he continues to serve the company as Blaze Pizza’s executive chef.
17. Basic Stats: Blaze Pizza currently ranks #95 on Entrepreneur magazine’s Franchise 500 list. Founded in 2012 and franchising since then, the number of locations has grown rapidly in the last five years to the current total of 270+, five of which are company-owned and nine of which are located outside the U.S. It became the first of the new fast-casual pizza chains to hit 50 locations at the end of 2014 then went on to be the first to hit 100 units and $100 million in sales.
18. Franchisee Requirements and Support: The initial franchise fee is currently $30,000 per location or $20,000 if operating a certified training location. The continuing royalty fee is 5% of gross sales and the creative (advertising) fee is 2% of gross sales. Corporate support of franchisees includes access to the brand, recipes and procedures, vendors, two weeks of training at corporate HQ, two weeks of in-store training at the franchisee’s location, store build-out and trade dress, website, social media, online ordering, and the gift card program. Blaze Pizza relies upon its carefully-selected partner PlayerLync to meet the chain’s need for a superior tech-forward mobile platform for delivering learning management, operational performance support, and business insights.
19. Franchise vs. Company-Operated: Whereas one of its chief competitors (MOD Pizza) has mostly company-owned locations, Blaze thinks its franchising approach is better. When MOD, based in Seattle, wants to open a location in Florida, it puts 3-6 months of effort into training a district manager that it then sends into a community about which the newly-minted trainee knows nothing. Blaze only works with franchisees who have prior restaurant experience and who come from the communities in which they will operate.
20. Another Banner Year: 2017 was another banner year for the chain, growing system-wide sales to $279 million, an increase of 51% compared to $185 million in the prior year. The company also opened 66 new restaurants, increased same-store sales by 3.7% for the full year, and achieved average unit volumes (AUVs) of $1.4 million.
21. Industry Accolades: Blaze Pizza was named the “#1 Brand of the Year” in the 2017 Fast Casual Top 100. Forbes described the company as the “Fastest-Growing Restaurant Chain Ever,” noting that “going from two to 200 franchises (restaurants) in four years is the fastest start in the history of the U.S. food service business,” which was confirmed by Technomic.