Papa Johns, Watch Out For This Competitor

Domino’s, Pizza Hut, and Little Caesars might want to keep one eye open, too.

Making a name for oneself in the fast food pizza landscape isn't an easy task. The leading "big four" chains—that's Domino's, Pizza Hut, Little Caesars, and Papa Johns—have locations just about everywhere, and their marketing spend ensures they maintain a strong hold on the public's wallets. But now, Restaurant Dive reports, a new competitor is ready to challenge the big dogs. Papa Johns, watch out for Marco's Pizza.


What is Marco’s Pizza?

Marco's Pizza is currently the fifth-largest pizza chain by sales in the country, and it is inching ever closer to stealing Papa Johns' fourth-place spot in the rankings. The relatively new pizza chain looks poised to achieve that goal, considering it reached $1 billion in annual sales last year and has an aggressive growth plan already underway.


There are already Marco's Pizza locations throughout the Mid-Atlantic, Southeast, and Southwest regions, and the chain plans to continue expanding in the Western U.S. In 2022, Marco's opened 90 stores and gained 140 new franchisees; early in 2023, the company signed 50 more franchise agreements and had 200 stores in development. Overall, it aims to reach 1,200 restaurants this year and has identified 4,200 more potential restaurant locations throughout the country.

"We have a five-year development plan in place that we're trying to hit," Marco's Pizza chief development officer Gerardo Flores told Restaurant Dive. "The goal is, over the next couple of years, to get to 300 store openings per year."


And if a statement like that from the C-suite isn't clear enough, the restaurant's new menu items certainly show the aims of the business. Marco's just added new handhelds to its menu called Pizzolis, a "crispy, craveable" pizza/stromboli hybrid designed for on-the-go consumption. You can order Pizzolis in Pepperoni, Buffalo Chicken, Pepperoni & Sausage, and Chicken Bacon Ranch varieties with a side of dipping sauce for $5.99 for a limited time.

"By tapping into the emerging handhelds category with the launch of our NEW Pizzoli, we can offer even more craveable options for consumers," said chief marketing officer Denise Lauer in the announcement. "Our Pizzoli is perfect for every eating occasion at home, at work or on-the-go – as a sidekick for pizza, as a grab-and-go lunch alternative, as a satisfying late-night snack, or as a convenient catering option for a gathering or event."

This "emerging handhelds category" has already been kicking around at Marco's direct competitors in the form of the Papa Johns Papadia and Pizza Hut's Melts.

The Papadia from Papa Johns, at its most basic level, can be described as two slices of pizza folded over and pressed. According to the brand's website, Papadias "make ideal finishing touches to any pizza order for a party, a family dinner, or even just a low-key Saturday night at home, as well as great ways to dress up an otherwise humdrum lunch hour!" Sound familiar?


Pizza Hut's Melts are also a force to be reckoned with. Each Melt is two slices of sauceless pizza folded over onto each other, baked, and served as a handheld that comes in varieties such as Pepperoni Lover's, Buffalo Chicken, Meat Lover's, and Chicken Bacon Parmesan. All varieties are served with a sauce on the side and are meant to be eaten as an individual entree rather than shared like a pizza. The website calls it "an all-new way to go solo."

The pizza category, primarily associated with shareable occasions like parties and family dinners, is now scrambling to innovate individual serving formats. The Pizzoli is one more way for Marco's Pizza to compete with the legacy behemoths it's up against, and that should make the Big Four nervous. Don't underestimate the new kid on the block.