An advert featuring Michelangelo’s David holding a bolt-action rifle in his chiselled arms is a surefire way of annoying Italians. Yet the uproar caused by the US weapons firm’s ill-advised ad of 2014, was not far off the outrage generated by the arrival of Domino’s Pizza in Italy. The chain has a presence in over 80 countries but had never operated in Italy until October 2015, when the central Milan takeaway/delivery outlet opened, with two more planned to open in the city by the end of the year.

The news that American pizzas were to be sold in Italy prompted uproar on social media, with Twitter users deriding Domino’s chances of success. And competition will certainly be tough. Nine in 10 Italians have eaten a delivery/takeaway pizza in 2015 – significantly more than the 55% of French, half of Germans and 67% of Spanish adults. Yet this is more reflective of Italians’ takeaway pizza habits, than delivery. It is common for Italians to pick up a pizza from a local pizzeria and eat it at home, but delivery options are few and far between, so it is in home delivery, where Domino’s is expecting to carve a niche for itself.

In a departure from its global model, Domino’s Pizza Italia is placing extra focus on local provenance by sourcing all of the ingredients from local suppliers, including locally sourced wheat, Prosciutto di Parma and Grana Padano cheese. Even Domino’s usual base recipe has been amended for its Italian operation.

Do Italians want a slice of Domino’s?

Early reviews have been fairly positive, with Italian bloggers acknowledging their surprise at the quality of the pizzas and the fast service. The prices could prove problematic though, and several reviewers have noted the high menu prices. The pizzas retail at just under €10 depending on toppings, which is actually cheaper than Domino’s prices elsewhere in the world, yet perhaps not compared to the prices Italians are used to paying.

Although Milan is a tourist hotspot, Domino’s is most likely to appeal to locals rather than to tourists. It is perhaps unlikely that they would choose to forego one of the hundreds of pizzerias in Milan for something they would have to either eat on-the-go, or have delivered to their hotel room.

The knead to know about Italian pizza eaters

To stand the best chance of convincing Italian consumers to part with their dough, Domino’s should be aware of their preferences and attitudes towards pizza. Authentic pizza recipes are hugely important to Italians, so it is positive for Domino’s that they are sourcing only local ingredients. Thick crust pizzas are less likely than thin crusts to resonate in Italy, again reflecting local tastes. However, there are features which consumers are keen to see that are less traditional, such as different style bases and – interestingly – alternatives to tomato sauces.

44% of Italian pizza users are keen to see a wider variety of gluten-free offerings, while 39% want to see more dairy-free offerings.

As a trend, using pesto and pureed nuts instead of tomato sauce remains niche, but there is significant interest in seeing it on more menus – even among the pizza purists of Italy. An area which will be of particular interest to Domino’s is smartphone ordering, as it accounts for such a huge share of its sales and is intended to be the main USP for its operations in Italy. Just 29% of Italian delivery/takeaway pizza users prefer to order delivery pizza with a smartphone app, while 52% are unsure. Agreement rises to 37% of 16-24-year olds, likely reflecting higher smartphone ownership and presenting a receptive target group for Domino’s in Milan.

Free-from could increase appeal

Domino’s should note that 44% of Italian pizza users are keen to see a wider variety of gluten-free offerings, while 39% want to see more dairy-free offerings. The global pizza industry, both in retail and out-of-home channels, is responding to demand for more gluten-free options although dairy-free recipes are harder to come by – despite strong consumer demand.

Domino’s has gluten-free offerings available in other markets, but is yet to have any in Milan. This is perhaps surprising considering coeliac disease is widely understood, accepted and catered for in Italy, though Domino’s claims that it will launch gluten-free pizzas there in the future. Catering for dairy intolerant consumers could be a further means of differentiating itself from the ferocious competition, and in keeping with an image which is more modern and perhaps progressive than the historic pizzerias which populate Milan.

What we think

Ultimately, Domino’s has been brave in entering Italy and the move has sparked international publicity, reflecting the popularity of pizza around the world. Domino’s has unquestionably avoided criticism by sourcing ingredients exclusively from local suppliers, and using marketing to celebrate partnerships with the cheese makers and tomato growers could help deflect any consumer doubts about the pizzas’ authenticity. If Domino’s does find success in Italy, it could potentially take ‘the recipe that won over Italians’ to other global markets although there is a risk that this concept could be costly to source and transport, and such a message may be perceived as arrogant. But maybe not as arrogant as assuming Italians will be happy to see one of their prized national treasures manipulated to sell guns.

Alex Beckett is a Global Food and Drink Analyst at Mintel. Prior to that he spent nearly three years writing UK-based consumer reports on a wide variety of food and drink categories. Prior to joining Mintel, Alex was Food and Drink Editor of highly-regarded food industry magazine, The Grocer.

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