For one reason or another, I quite often find myself in a local mall, bored to tears, while my wife just has to “pick up one thing really quickly.” Normally, I pass the time people watching. It’s quite entertaining, really, spying as a couple fights or a kid pushes his little brother down when the parents aren’t paying attention.
Last Sunday afternoon I ended up — where else — but the mall. As I sat in the food court my attention quickly turned to a boy, no more than five or six years old, eating an oversized, New York style slice of pizza. While his mother and brother waited in line for a sub sandwich, this little tyke was going to town on his pepperoni like he hadn’t eaten in three days. My wife and I chuckled as the boy slyly turned to make sure his mother wasn’t looking. As soon as he knew he was in the clear he put his fork down and grabbed a piece of pepperoni barehanded. The cheese stretched a mile before loosing itself from the slice. The boy playfully dangled the pepperoni and mozzarella in the air high above his head, aligned it with his mouth, and dropped the “missile” toward its eager target.
It was a partial hit. What didn’t end up in his mouth landed squarely on his sauce-smeared cheek. This boy was no dummy: he wiped his face with a napkin before his mother could return and scold him. A few seconds later, he turned and noticed his mother and brother were still in line waiting for their sub sandwiches. I could read his face plain as day: he had time to play with his pizza again.
As I watched the child make a mess of his lunch, two thoughts went through my head: 1) it’s good for my soul to remember what it’s like to be six years old, and; 2) pizza is a fun food, which is a big part of what makes this industry so great.
That boy couldn’t have had as much fun with a hamburger. Truth be told, he probably couldn’t have had as much fun with the toy that would have come with said burger!
Considering the fun factor of pizza, I can’t help but wondering why the pizza industry hasn’t been so fun lately. Between price wars and lawsuits, pizza pushers have seen more than their fair share of squabbling over the past 18-24 months. Maybe it’s time to take a cue from Perry Ludy, the former Pizza Hut executive and current Little Caesar’s franchisee who stood before an audience at International Pizza Expo™ in March 2002 and challenged the industry to stop fighting and start cooperating. Ludy suggested those with key influence in the industry take a cue from the now legendary “Got Milk?” campaign and do something similar with pizza.
I’ve asked a handful of industry execs about the idea since Ludy introduced it. Each time, the reaction was less than lukewarm. The decision makers I’ve talked to seem to feel their money is better spent on promoting themselves as opposed to promoting pizza as a whole. I respect and understand that point of view. Still, I can’t help but wonder what it would hurt to give Ludy’s idea a try. If a cooperative campaign works the way it did for milk producers and grows the pizza segment, there will be more dollars over which to fight! I doubt anyone is opposed to that.