Pizza Hut Bigfoot Pizza
Food trends, like most trends, tend to jump about wildly. Usually, those initial jumps are in response to an existing trend. So when you have a healthy food trend, you can bet that at some point in the future an unhealthy food trend is going to assert itself. This usually results in delicious salty, fatty foods expanding in selection and size. When this happens, you get a product like the Pizza Hut Bigfoot Pizza.
The Bigfoot Pizza was all about size and value. It was two feet long by one foot wide and so big that you would get it in a bag. They sliced it twice lengthwise and then made many horizontal cuts that would give you 21 square pieces of pizza.
The pizza itself was constructed like a standard Pizza Hut pizza, just larger and rectangular. So crust on the bottom, followed by sauce, then cheese, and finally toppings. The crust was similar to New York-style pizza. Which made it thinner than Pizza Hut’s pan pizza and thicker than their crispy-crust pizza.
According to Pizza Hut, the crust itself was made with a light sourdough base. So while the cheese and sauce were standard Pizza Hut ingredients, the difference in the crust gave the Bigfoot a slightly unique flavor.
This amount of pizza was 25 percent larger than two of their 12-inch medium pizzas, which was a best-selling combination. So in one order, you could get more pizza for your money in a rather novel package.
So Much Oil!
If you were a frequent Bigfoot Pizza eater, you would quickly figure out that the way the pizza was baked and cut made for much oilier pieces of pizza towards the center slices. If you liked an oily slice, you would go straight down the middle.
It was my least favorite part of the pizza. So I would eat it first to get it over with before moving onto the crusty and less oily side slices.
Testing the Bigfoot Pizza
As a national pizza chain, Pizza Hut is constantly responding to rivals. One chain that was challenging Pizza Hut was Little Caesars Pizza. Little Caesars was pulling away customers not on taste or speedy delivery, but on value, more pizza for your dollar.
In early 1993, Pizza Hut started testing out the Bigfoot, which was referred to in newspaper articles as the “Big Foot”. The initial test results were good. According to Pizza Hut’s vice president of public affairs at the time, Larry Whitt, “Thus far we have been very pleased with the results. We’ve had a lot of new faces come into our units.”
Testing results were impressive and the fast-food industry news was saying that the Bigfoot could be rolled out nationally as early as May of 1993. When they did finally roll it out, it would become Pizza Hut’s first national product rollout since they started selling hand-tossed pizza in 1988.
Still, Pizza Hut was coy in its reasoning for this extra-large value offering. When asked if the Bigfoot was being offered in response to another chain, Whitt wouldn’t name names, but stated, “We developed the product to make ourselves relevant in the value segment.”
Why one Big Pizza sells?
David Wallerstein pioneered larger food sizes for customers. As a member of McDonald’s Board of Directors, he would convince Ray Kroc to start serving their french fries in a larger size. How and why?
While running a chain of movie theaters Wallerstein realized that if you sold larger snacks, people would buy them and consume them. Even if their natural preference was for something smaller. They just couldn’t resist the deal. By packaging movie snacks or french fries in a larger package, you reframe the consumer’s decision. It is no longer about, “what will satisfy me,” but instead becomes, “what is the better deal?”
According to William Poundstone, author of Priceless: The Myth of Fair Value (and How to Take Advantage of It), “So much depends on how you frame the choice and what the choices are. You manufacture the consumer’s preferences. When you get a large, you feel like you’re getting a better deal. And on a per-ounce basis, it is a better deal. You don’t think, ‘I need this 32-ounce drink.’ You think, ‘Boy, I’m getting a better deal.’
The Rollout of the Bigfoot Pizza
Testing had gone very well and the press was for the most part extolling the virtues of the Bigfoot. So by the summer of 1993, it was ready to start expanding availability. Coupons and promotions started running throughout the United States, extolling the value and size of this unusually large pizza.
In December of that year, Pizza Hut was sure this was going to be a hit. In their test marketing of Minneapolis and Las Vegas, when the Bigfoot arrived, sales increased by twenty percent in both cities. Company spokesperson at the time, Rob Doughty, said,
“We expect in the next 12 to 18 months that Bigfoot will be a billion-dollar brand for us.”
How popular was the Bigfoot? According to an article by the Orange County Register, “Pizza Hut’s Big Foot Pizza is its most popular product of all time.”
The Bigfoot Rollout Video
To prepare franchisees and employees for the rollout of the Bigfoot. Pizza Hut released a video that intercuts footage of people dancing, the pizza being prepared, and clips from the movie, Harry and the Hendersons. All of it set to a repetitive and only slightly informative Bigfoot Pizza song.
The takeaway is supposed to be that you should not let the Bigfoot sneak up on you, but the messaging is messy and a bit confusing.
It’s a perfect artifact of corporate 1993 creativity-by-committee, that I find very satisfying. I especially enjoy the food prep scenes since it lets me peek behind the curtain.
Seeing the Harry and the Hendersons‘ footage makes me wonder if they ever considered Harry as the Spokessasquatch for the brand? The film was still moderately well-known at the time and Harry is probably the most developed Bigfoot character around. Seems like a missed opportunity.
Pizza Hut ran a series of commercials. All had the high-energy quick cuts that defined this era of Nineties advertising. But one thing was missing, the Bigfoot. Sure in ads they would show an animated foot, but in a few print ads and even on some carryout bags they had their own Bigfoot character.
It is a mystery to me why they would develop a character like this and hardly use him. Instead, they made a Pizza Delivery Guy, played by Ricky Dean Logan, the spokesperson for the Bigfoot Pizza.
Logan does a great job, but I would have liked to have seen him mix it up with a Bigfoot sidekick. While they made a few commercials for the Bigfoot, two seem to be the most well-remembered.
The first featured Logan prominently. In it, he is trying to educate Bigfoot Pizza Eaters about a special offer they can take advantage of, free HBO for a month with a coupon!
The other commercial might be the original one. It has Dean in it, but the majority of the ad is done “man-on-the-street” style. With people being interviewed about Bigfoot sightings. This one is probably most famous because it has a young Haley Joel Osment in it.
The Pizza Hut Bigfoot Pizza Blimp Crash
To promote the Bigfoot, Pizza Hut decided to lease a blimp and fly it around to tie in with regional promotions and giveaways. Blimps are always a fun way to promote a product, but what happens when something goes wrong?
That is exactly what happened to the Bigfoot Pizza Hut Blimp as it was flying over New York City on July 4th of 1993. The blimp developed issues and rapidly deflating it was forced to make an emergency landing on top of an apartment building. Miraculously no one was hurt, but it was big news at the time.
While having an airship coming down on a New York City building is not ideal, for many who followed along with the blimp and its crash, the publicity related to the incident went nationwide and was free.
Who was buying the Bigfoot?
Pizza Hut did not go blindly into this market, they did lots of product testing.
One of the things we kept hearing is that, if you’re feeding the Little League or a bunch of hungry teens, we didn’t have a product. So they were going elsewhere, to the competition.”
Rob Doughty – Pizza Hut Spokesperson (1994)
When they surveyed buyers, they were not surprised to learn that the people buying it were teens, twentysomethings, and families with young children. All of these groups were looking for value that Pizza Hut was not offering until they offered the Bigfoot.
What went wrong?
The Bigfoot pizza was a huge hit when it rolled out. Driven by people seeking value and strong word-of-mouth, it gained momentum quickly. But the Bigfoot was put out in response to a trend towards larger portions at lower prices. Because it was a trend, everyone else jumps on it as well, especially Pizza Hut’s chief rivals, Dominoes, and Little Caesars.
Before you know it both of those chains were selling large pies and Pizza Hut could no longer just continue to coast of momentum. Add to that issues with the product itself.
Pizzas at Pizza Hut are made in the restaurant. Making a Bigfoot requires them to stretch dough across a very large pan and to make sure that the cheese and toppings were spread evenly. This was a slow and sometimes tedious process fraught with errors. Many former Pizza Hut kitchen employees discuss the challenge of making the Bigfoot in comments I have seen on YouTube.
The delivery people didn’t have it any easier. Two square feet of pizza prepared longways is not the best form factor for delivery. Throw in pizza bags instead of boxes and you have a recipe for failure.
Pizza Hut knew that margins would be slim, but the fervor over its introduction painted a rosier picture of the product’s potential. At its peak in 1993, the Bigfoot represented 18 percent of Pizza Hut’s sales. By July of 1994, that number had fallen to just 8 percent and looked to be trending further down.
One big problem was an issue that most of the less expensive offerings have to contend with, quality. For existing Pizza Hut customers, the Bigfoot did not live up to their expectations. New customers, who tried Bigfoot and then Pizza Hut’s pan pizza, found the quality of the Bigfoot pizza crust to be lacking. Combine that with a more limited number of toppings, and you can see why the Bigfoot faded into near obscurity.
The Domino’s Dominator and Little Caesars’ Big! Big! Cheese
As I mentioned, Pizza Hut’s competition fired back with large pizzas of their own. In early 1993, Domino’s released, The Dominator. This pizza was a monster, going longer than both of their rivals’ offering at 10 inches by 30 inches. According to a company spokesperson at the time, “Laid side by side, it’s bigger than my 3-year-old.”
The Big! Big! Cheese went in a slightly different direction, offering two 11¼ by 11¼ inches Detroit Style Pan Pizzas that weighed a whopping 4.5 pounds.
Both of these pizzas demonstrated that all the big chains were taking the value market seriously, but they would also suffer from the same issues as the Big Foot in terms of quality.
When did they stop selling Bigfoot Pizzas?
Many people will cite the mid to late Nineties as the time of death for the Bigfoot Pizza. But the pizza actually survived much longer in some form or another. I have found coupons and offers from as late as 2008 promoting the Bigfoot. What that new millennium Bigfoot looked like and why it was still going strong in some markets is a bit of a mystery.
What we can be sure of is that the reason people think the Bigfoot went away is that they stopped thinking about it. The fast-food industry moves very fast, with a constantly evolving offering from hundreds of companies. While sometimes a product will be a hit, more often than not, it fails. When it does, it takes a long time for it to finally move out of the system. Long past when people are still thinking about buying it.
The future of the Bigfoot?
Not too long ago, Pizza Hut released a Big Italian pizza that bore a striking resemblance to the form factor of the Bigfoot. It also did not catch on, but it did demonstrate Pizza Hut’s willingness to keep the idea alive.
With nostalgia for the Nineties continuing to intensify, perhaps we will see a re-release or a seasonal schedule for this giant. Even if we don’t we can all look back with fondness at a pizza that was a feast for the eyes and the belly. It might not have taken the nation by storm, but it was a great deal for mid-nineties pizza lovers who didn’t want to spend a lot of money.