War of the pizzas

2014-11-02 15:00

Domino’s Pizza arrived in South Africa this week with outlets in Joburg, Cape Town and Durban. Determining how the chain is going to fare in a competitive fast food market is not easy.

I have applied the cost-benefit analysis I generally use to judge a good fast food meal – which is whether I wouldn’t mind paying for the extra calories in a gym.

Analysts have billed Domino’s as the greatest threat to home-grown established brand Debonairs. Domino’s also comes hot on the heels of the return of YUM brand’s Pizza Hut to the country.


Two things that show that Domino’s is from America: the overwhelming red-and-blue decor in the store and the option of pepperoni as a topping. It doesn’t get more American than pepperoni pizza.

Domino’s makes buying pizzas an experience. You can order a thick or a thin base and can create your own pizza – and buy dip. The barbecue dipping sauce I tried seamlessly gelled with the taste of the pizza.

I had a butter pan pizza, where the thick pizza base is baked in butter. The delicious taste made me forget how many more calories this contained than an ordinary thin base. The menu is simple. Pizza sizes range from small to extra large (R50 to R180).

Domino’s also has the added experience of what it terms “pizza theatre”, where you can watch the entire seven-stage process of your pizza being prepared.

But what Domino’s doesn’t have are the gourmet pizzas Debonairs has become so good at – not only are the combinations delicious, but they are great value for money.

The menu is also not adapted to South African flavours. Many fast food outlets do this, such as KFC introducing local staple pap as a side, or Debonairs adding boerewors as a topping.

As much as Domino’s has a superior taste, I hope it can be more innovative with its menu and add new, exciting home-grown flavours as it grows; otherwise it runs the risk of the novelty fading out.


Debonairs adapts by constantly adding new things to its menu, introducing gourmet pizzas and being sensitive to customers’ hard times by introducing a real-deal pizza for less than R30.

It has a wide range on its menu, including subs and sides such as pop-itz – a mini-pizza.

What Debonairs has over Pizza Hut and Domino’s is that it is the established brand, with more than 400 outlets across the country, including in townships.

It’s a lot easier to call Debonairs for a pizza than to get into your car and drive to Rivonia for Domino’s or to Honeydew for Pizza Hut.

But when it comes to taste, Debonairs will need to improve and it might have to give customers more of a dough base.

I have bought a Debonairs pizza before where the toppings began to fall off the minute I picked up a slice. Sometimes the pizzas are made in a sloppy way, especially on busy nights.

And it might have to be more flexible when allowing customers to create their own pizzas.

Debonairs, perhaps because it has positioned itself as a pizza delivery company, also lacks the pizza theatre Domino’s offers.

For now, Debonairs is safe in its market leader position, but the competition is here.


Pizza Hut has been in the country before and left in 2008, but returned in September, opening a store in Honeydew – its only store in South Africa so far.

Rather than being a take-away joint, Pizza Hut is focused on casual dining, like Spur, although it does offer a delivery service.

One of the local toppings available is boerewors (Andre’s Boerie Pizza), so it has made an effort to adapt its menu for locals.

It offers a thick and thin base, and also has pepperoni as a topping.

I understand why there wasn’t much of an uproar when Pizza Hut left South Africa the first time. The pizza was not anything special and did not taste as good as Domino’s. But the prices were a lot lower.

In my opinion, it will take a long time for Pizza Hut to be any real threat.


I would take the pain in the gym any day for a slice of Domino’s. It tastes great and I love the pizza theatre. I can’t wait for one in my neighbourhood to test out the speed of delivery.

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