Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Pizza wars: new entrants invade city, battle for a slice of the market

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There is a battle going on in Winnipeg and it's being waged with pepperoni, mushrooms, sundried tomatoes and green peppers.

With new entrants fighting for local taste buds with long-standing shops, some of which are also expanding their pie-print, it's clear a full-fledged pizza war has broken out.

Part of the reason? It's cold here. While Winnipeggers shiver through January, Pat Finelli, chief marketing officer for Toronto-based Pizza Pizza, said a deep-freeze means lots of business.

"Winnipeg is a good delivery town. When the weather is cold, it's great for pizza. People enjoy hockey, football or family time and order pizza," he said.

Ken Macdonald, part-owner of three Papa John's locations in town, agrees.

"We love days like this because it's so cold. You're not very likely to go to a restaurant today," he said.

Both companies have aggressive expansion plans in Winnipeg.

Pizza Pizza has opened up eight locations in town over the past 15 months or so and is looking to double that number in the not-too-distant future.

"All of the outlets we've opened are doing great. They're exceeding expectations. Definitely, Winnipeggers love their pizza," Finelli said.

Papa John's has a goal of 12 locations in Manitoba, including 10 inside the Perimeter Highway.

"We've done our homework. Other pizza places have done well here. Winnipeg is a food capital of Canada," Macdonald said.

"When we opened up on Portage (Avenue), we were getting calls a month-and-a-half ahead asking, 'When are you opening?' "

Papa John's also benefits from the parent company's sponsorship of NFL football. Macdonald can't say exactly how much his stores benefit from the advertising spillover, but it's significant.

Papa Murphy's is perhaps the newest entrant, having opened up its first Winnipeg location on Regent Avenue in October.

Its "take-and-bake" concept means its employees will knead the dough and pile on the toppings, but the customer bakes the pizza at home.

"It's restaurant-quality pizza that people can bake in their homes," said Doug Sanders, who owns the franchise along with his wife, Lisa. He said the fifth-largest pizza chain in the U.S. wants to have 10 Winnipeg locations eventually.

"Pizza is a growing segment in Canada. On average, people eat pizza 43 times a year, that's almost once a week," he said.

Don't forget, Winnipeg already has many independent restaurants, such as Mona Lisa Ristorante, and well-established chains such as Domino's Pizza, Pizza Hotline, Boston Pizza, Santa Lucia Pizza and Gondola Pizza -- and many more -- which have blanketed the city with locations.

Mailboxes are constantly crammed full of pizza flyers and coupons and it's nearly impossible to listen to the radio without getting some pizza jingle stuck in your head.

The pizza market is so vibrant, it's even bringing one operator back from the dead. Mr. Bones Pizza, which closed down its Winnipeg locations nine years ago, recently took to social media to announce its pending return.

As with many things in business in Winnipeg these days, the return of the NHL to the city played a role.

Pizza Pizza was already a sponsor of the Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs and Ottawa Senators and it wanted to continue its affiliation with hockey here.

"It was almost perfect timing. We were talking to (True North) and said, 'That's a double hype for the marketplace, Pizza Pizza and the Jets,'" Finelli said.

Scott Jocelyn, executive director of the Manitoba Restaurant & Foodservices Association, was at a bit of a loss to explain the proliferation of pizza outlets.

"It's a very competitive market. Look at Little Caesar's and their $5 pizza. You don't even have to order it, it's ready for you," he said.

"People want it now, pizza is quick and easy, it's affordable and it's everywhere."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 26, 2013 B6


Updated on Saturday, January 26, 2013 at 11:44 AM CST: adds fact box

3:30 PM: removes fact box, adds as separate story

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