Papa John’s Takes a Cue From Chipotle

Have a pizza, except without the best part.

While the biggest pizza debate of our times may be about whether pineapple belongs on one, the crust itself is a no less important point of contention.

Doughy, or thin and fire-burned? Deep-dish or, as some may remember from old Pizza Hut ads from the early aughts, cheese-stuffed? While some will die arguing that the crust is the best part of the entire pizza, others will discard it before moving on to the second slice.

The fast-food zeitgeist has, over the last decade, definitely favored those who choose to forgo or even minimize the carbs — the gluten-free food market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 8.3% to $10.96 billion from 2022 to 2029.

Is the Gluten-Free Craze Over or Just Getting Started?

Different years have brought with them different versions of the low-carb diet — by 2019, online searches of the “ketogenic” high-fat diet reached 17 million a month.

While this sometimes comes from the needs of people with celiac disease or other insensitivities, it can also reflect inaccurate public understanding of nutrition.

At the peak of the gluten-free diet’s popularity in 2013, researchers from Mintel also found that 65% of Americans believed that products labeled “gluten free” were healthier for them.

Another 27% purchased them for weight loss.

Fast-food chains, in turn, have been all too happy to run with some people’s desire to cut the carbs. Chipotle  (CMG) – Get Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. Report popularized the burrito bowl, which nixes the tortilla for a salad-style of burrito fillings.

A&W’s in Canada offer a burger in wrapped in lettuce leaves in lieu of bread, while just about every burger chain can now make any burger on the menu with a gluten-free bun.

Papa John’s

Amid the hype, the fad has creeped into items that some would argue are best left alone. Papa John’s  (PZZA) – Get Papa John’s International Inc. Report, the Georgia-based pizza chain whose owner was ousted by the company in 2018 after using racial slurs during a conference call, recently announced that it is launching Papa Bowls: a casserole-style bowl of pizza ingredients like cheese, marinara sauce, and meat or veggies.

What is a Pizza Bowl?

As of August 22, the Papa Bowls will be available at locations across the country for $7.99 (exact price may vary slightly due to local cost of ingredients). They will come in the Italian Meat Trio, Chicken Alfredo, and Garden Veggie flavors.

“We are very excited to offer Papa Bowls as a new menu category and as a new way consumers can experience our premium ingredients,” Scott Rodriguez, the senior vice president of menu strategy and product at Papa John’s, said in a statement to media outlets. “Our signature crust continues to be a beloved favorite, but we know that sometimes customers crave something different.”

The chain’s loyalty members will be able to get the bowls on August 15, a week earlier than everybody else.

The idea of the pizza bowl had already appeared in Yum! Brands  (YUM) – Get Yum! Brands Inc. Report Pizza Hut’s South Korean franchise but, in that case, it still had crust that was shaped like the vessel to fill with ingredients. 

Back home, however, major chains have largely kept *some* kind of crust to keep ingredients from mixing with one another — usually, this is the cauliflower pizza crust that has lately become popular with followers of low-carb diets.

“We want them to know we are committed to delivering on all of those cravings through our menu,” Rodriguez said.

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