Could bigger pizzas be key in a Pie Five turnaround?

Once a star of the fast-casual personal pizza scene, Pie Five has seen revenues nosedive since the end of 2015. Now the struggling brand is betting that a nationwide rollout of bigger pies will add up to bigger sales.

For the past several weeks, the chain’s been testing shareable 14-inch pizzas in 15 units. Sales have increased 8%-10% in those locations, says Tim Breen, vice president of franchise operations and support. “And it’s growing,” he says. “It’s huge.”

A nationwide launch of the larger pizzas begins this week, the chain announced today.

Pie Five is seeing sales growth in other new menu items as well, Breen says, with sales up 6%-8% in the 49 units that currently offer sandwiches (roughly half of all total locations). The toasted sandwich melts will roll out across the country early next year, he says.

Wings are sold in just three test locations, but those stores are seeing a 4%-6% sales boost, Breen says, and wings will likely be added to menus nationwide in the middle of the first quarter.

And delivery, that unstoppable force in today’s restaurant landscape, is shaping the future at Pie Five, too. About 70% of the 14-inch pies are ordered for delivery, Breen says. Though just 40% of Pie Five units offer delivery, the goal is to have all units outfitted with third-party or in-house delivery, or some combination of both.

To keep things simple operationally, the 14-inch pizzas are prepared and cooked in much the same way as the chain’s original 11-inch pies. The larger versions require twice the amount of toppings and sauce as the smaller ones and about one and a half times the dough.

A sales free fall like the one experienced by Pie Five is almost unprecedented, absent a major operational disaster (such as Chipotle’s food safety issues). In the fourth quarter of 2014, Pie Five reported same-store sales growth of 16.9% from the same period the year before. By the third quarter of this year, the company’s comps had plummeted 17.3% year over year.

“We’re on the right path,” Breen says. “We’ve corrected the wrongs. These new products are helping.”

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