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Pizza Hut’s Priazzo
Almost everyone loves pizza. This is why epic online battles rage continuously about what combo of toppings or baking style constitutes the best or “real” pizza. If people online are so passionate about whether pineapple belongs on pizza, I can only imagine how people might have reacted to Pizza Hut’s Priazzo if it had been released during the Internet Era.
What was the Priazzo?
Some have described the Priazzo as a deep-dish style pizza. That is a good start, but doesn’t really capture the full Priazzo experience.
Yes, the Priazzo was deep-dish or “stuffed pizza” in style. Inspired by rustic Italian pies, they would take a pan and lay a pizza dough inside it. Then they would fill the crust with ingredients. Which ingredients depended on the variation you bought. After that, they would top it off with another layer of pizza, which they would layer with sauce and cheese.
At the time of its availability, my sister described it as a quiche-like deep-dish pizza wearing a pizza hat.
Coming on the heels of the wildly successful release of the Personal Pan Pizza in 1983, the Priazzo took a good amount of time to launch. Going through extensive testing and marketing development. It was test-marketed in 180 stores for a year and a half before Pizza Hut finally decided to roll it out regionally. That means that the Priazzo was already in development, near or slightly before, they even released the Personal Pan Pizza.
The Pan Pizza helped Pizza Hut capture the lucrative fast-service lunchtime crowd. The Priazzo took a lot longer to make and was targeted at the dinner crowd, which at the time accounted for 70% of Pizza Hut Sales. The hope is that it would boost that number by 20% They would serve it after 4pm on weekday and all day on weekend.
The Priazzo Name
If you are traveling the length of Italy trying to find the origins of the name Priazzo, you will be out there a long time. Priazzo is a coined word or neologism created just for Pizza Hut by marketing consultant, Charles Brymer and his company Interbrand.
The process for coming up with the name took close to a year and was rigorously tested. At the time, names created in this fashion usually cost from $10,000-$30,000, but something this big could run upwards of $100,000.
This might sound like a lot, but when you consider that Pizza Hut was going to spend millions on the launch of the Priazzo, it is a drop in a very large bucket.
Why do companies spend so much money on made up words? According to Brymer, who also famously came up with the name of the Pontiac Fiero, “A coined name or neologism is the most protected kind of trademark.”
So yes, they could have just called their new product, The Rustic Italian Pie, but in the long run Pizza Hut would have a hard time fending off copycats if the Priazzo took off. This is probably why, when you hear the company mentioning their new creation, they are quick to point out that it’s not pizza, it’s Priazzo.
Priazzo is not a pizza. Because unlike pizza, Priazzo has a bottom and a top. And all those great toppings you usually have on your pizza come stuffed inside Priazzo. It’s covered with sauce, cheddar, and mozzarella cheese and baked to perfection. Priazzo is delicious, but it’s not pizza. Try it today!
Brymer and his company used a mix of technology and traditional research to help them come up with the name.
They would use a computer and feed it letters they knew they wanted in the name. In this instance, they borrowed from pizza. They decided it would start with P, end with A, and have the double Z in there. So those letters were entered into their computer, and it built a list with thousands of options.
That list was whittled down to something more manageable, and then was passed through staff language experts, lawyers, and a creative panel who would help to select the finalists to pitch to focus groups. Only after a name has survived this process did they submit it to Pizza Hut.
What Variations could you get?
While the Priazzo name was manufactured, they would use proper Italian place-names for the various kinds of Priazzos. Throughout product testing and during the original launch, they had three variations, but they would quickly expand the line.
You could “special order” a Priazzo, but you can only take ingredients away from a pie. You cannot add ingredients to one. So you could get a Florentine without Ham, but you couldn’t add bacon to it.
This policy would change around 1987. That’s when Pizza Hut started a promotion for a “Build Your Own” Priazzo. This allowed anyone to choose any number of toppings off the Pizza Hut menu. I can only imagine that it was chaotic in the kitchen after they launched this.
Which Priazzo would you get? Here is a list of the six types I could find so far, along with their ingredients. I would like to say this is the complete list, but maybe another Priazzo is lurking out there waiting to be rediscovered.
One of the original flavors, the Roma contained pepperoni, mushrooms, Italian sausage, onions, beef, pork, mozzarella and chedder cheese. I am not sure if this was supposed to be the flagship Priazzo, but in advertisements, they often led with the Roma.
The Florentine was a cheese explosion that included five types: ricotta, parmesan, mozzarella, romano, and cheddar. To balance it out, they would also add ham and a bit of spinach. It was my 2nd favorite of the original offerings. Although I picked out the spinach
The Milano was by far my favorite of the Priazzos. It Pizza Hut’s “Meat Lovers” concept in Priazzo form. A delicious mixture of pepperoni, bacon, Italian sausage, beef, pork, mozzarella and cheddar.
One slice of this monster could fill you up.
The Napoli was introduced shortly after the launch of the product line. It was a four cheese pizza (parmesan, mozzarella, romano and cheddar) with a layer of tomato slices baked in a savory sauce.
Another variation introduced after the launch, in the Verona the meatball was the star, but it wasn’t alone. It also contained green peppers, onions, mozzarella, cheddar, and their savory sauce.
The Portofino was the “sausage-forward” version of the Priazzo. In addition to Italian sausage it also had green peppers, onions, mozzarella, cheddar, and their savory sauce. When they rolled out the Portofino, they also sent out these nifty pins for employees to wear.
When did the Priazzo get released?
You can find public mentions of the Priazzo in test markets as early as 1984. The official release was in June 1985. So some lucky people were regularly enjoying this dinnertime behemoth for maybe a year before the wider public got their hands on it.
The marketing campaign was ubiquitous. Featuring print ads and a lushly filmed commercial shot in Italy. They spent a reported $15 million on this round of advertising, and if you were watching TV during that summer, you probably remember seeing this gem set to the music of famed composer, Puccini.
How much did a Priazzo cost?
The Priazzo came in three sizes: small, medium, and large. At the time of the launch, all four types were price identically. From what I have read, the price by size and type could vary by market.
In the fall of 1985, here is approximately how much you would pay for your Priazzo:
Small (8.75 inches) – $8.05
Medium (12.5 inches) – $10.95
Large (15.25 inches) – $14.75
As with most Pizza Hut products, they often ran specials with printed coupons that could save you up to $3 off a large Priazzo.
The Priazzo also had a logical, but unusual limited-time product giveaway associated with it. When you ordered a pie, you would be given a pizza cutting wheel. It’s a clever idea, especially for takeout orders where you might need to cut the pie yourself.
What did people think of the Priazzo?
Reviewers of the Priazzo, upon its release, tended to approach the new creation with some cynicism. From the manufactured name to the intimidating size, food critics were cautious.
Most of that caution quickly fell away after trying Pizza Hut’s “gourmet offering,” and so reviews tended to be positive. They generally end with a summary about the size of the pie being too much to eat in one sitting, and how well it reheated when taken home.
I agree with taking your Priazzo home, or at least waiting some time to dive into it. When they were served, they were piping hot. This heat not only could burn the mouth, but masked the flavors of the ingredients. So letting it cool slightly, gave you a better tasting experience. It also made cold Priazzo the next day, pretty tasty as well.
Not everyone was charmed by the Priazzo. In a 1985 interview, famed pizza chef Evelyne Slomon pointed out the inauthentic nature of the pizza. Stating about the name variations that “she would not associate those mixtures with those cities because few Italians can afford to put that much meat in a pie.”
Famous pizza chefs aside, consumers seemed to be pretty excited about the Priazzo. 1986 was a tough year for the parent company of Pizza Hut, PepsiCo, but Pizza Hut was a bright spot. Profits at the chain were up 12% that year, with the Priazzo contributing to that.
What went wrong?
Sure, the Priazzo was tasty, but like with many newly introduced food items, a lot of its success was based on novelty. So after the hype and marketing died down, it needed to stand on its own, and it did for a while.
Still, it had some issues.
People have a vision of pizza. Often that vision is based on where they first had pizza. The Priazzo, while close to Chicago-style stuffed pizza in the United States, was just different enough to not be Chicago-style. Not was it what we would now call New York or East Coast style pizza.
Consumers had tried the Priazzo and many liked it, but it wasn’t something they would return to on every visit. That might be because of taste, but more likely it was time-related.
When reading about the rollout of the Priazzo, reporters are quick to point out that unlike traditional pizza, it was not a something you could get quickly. They often threw around numbers like 20 minutes to prepare, but it was actually more like 30 minutes or up to 40 minutes. People just weren’t willing to make that level of time commitment at a casual restaurant.
Add to that the difficulty that kitchen staff found in preparing the pie, and you have a fussy menu item that quickly started to fade from tables.
A Saturated Meal Time
While this might have been a delicious dining option. Pizza Hut’s expectations to enhance their dinner revenue was asking a lot. The majority of their revenue came from dinner, so they hoped that the Priazzo would bring in more people to dinner.
Unfortunately, once the novelty of a new product wore off, they had to count on people who regularly ate at Pizza Hut. They were not going in and ordering MORE food, they were ordering a Priazzo INSTEAD of what they normally ordered.
So they were just taking away purchases from an existing product. One that was probably a lot easier and cheaper to make.
They should have instead invested more in lunch or like McDonald’s attempted to capture a whole new meal.
When did the Priazzo go away?
After 1986, Pizza Hut didn’t invest much in major Priazzo advertising. Still, this cheesy creation continued to find fans, persisting on menus until the early Nineties.
It may have continued to be offered at restaurants for a bit longer, but the last appearance of the Priazzo as an offering in print, was in 1993, for a Pizza Hut in Marysville, Ohio.
The Legacy of the Priazzo
While the Priazzo might have disappeared by the mid-Nineties. It’s near decade long run, and initial success had an impact on the pizza market. It showed that pizza could be redefined and not just fall into the normal, established, and traditional styles. More importantly, it blazed a trail of excess.
The Priazzo was impressive. It was thicker than the normal Pizza Hut offering and brimming with ingredients (the large had a pound of cheese on it). It looks mild by the standards that would follow, but it set the pizza-eating public on a delicious crash-course with the likes of Big Foot and Stuffed Crust Pizzas.
And while Pizza Hut might have created the Priazzo name, other people would follow suit in creating copycat versions of the new pie. Not only can you find dozens of recipes online, but independent restaurants have been serving a version of the Priazzo, sometime even using the name, since the eighties. At several of these establishments, I have read it accurately described as a cross between a pizza and calzone.
The Priazzo was a tasty treat that was well-liked by Pizza Hut enthusiasts. It might not have been the hit that PepsiCo wanted, but it had an influence on the direction of fast food and deserves to be remembered.