In what is just more confirmation that the world is moving towards organic food, Papa John’s, the third-largest pizza delivery company, announced that it has launched an organic pilot program in its locations in Lexington, Kentucky.
Customers in this market are now able to order pizzas that feature four freshly-sliced, organic toppings: Roma tomatoes, green peppers, yellow onions, and mushrooms.
While major restaurant chains, including Papa John’s have made serious efforts to clean up their menu by removing artificial colors and flavors, the decision to offer organic ingredients has not been widely embraced just yet.
That is why this announcement by Papa John’s is so significant.
Wanting to get a better understanding of why Papa John’s launched this organic pilot program and where organic fits into the company’s future plans, I spoke with Sean Muldoon, the Chief Ingredient Officer at Papa John’s. Here is what he had to say.
Was the organic pilot program driven by customer requests or was it something proposed internally?
The organic pilot program is a natural extension of the Better Ingredients journey we have been on for 33 years. At Papa John’s, every year we evaluate all of our ingredients and challenge ourselves to make them better, including ensuring we are the leader in the pizza industry relative to consumer needs.
Last year, our research showed that more than 50% of American households purchase organic ingredients. And based on recent trends, about 20% of all produce will come from certified organic farms by 2020. That was telling us something about our customers’ needs.
How long was it being discussed internally before you decided to move forward with the organic pilot program?
We’ve been working on this program for more than a year. We never do anything just to do it – we want to get it right – and the organic pilot is no different.
To make the program come to life, we had to make some changes to our supply chain. We partnered with Green BEAN Delivery, whose goal is to make healthy and sustainably-grown food more affordable, accessible and convenient, to help execute this initiative.
Why did you partner with Green BEAN instead of sourcing it directly on your own?
Through its online platform, Green BEAN delivers organic ingredients to homes in the Louisville area. Last year, when we were going through our annual ingredient evaluation process, we saw their trucks on the road. So, one day, I just picked the phone and called Matt Ewer, the founder and CEO of Green BEAN. It was the start to a great partnership.
We have been really impressed with Matt and his team at Green BEAN. They have a great vision around organic produce and sustainability. They also have a strong network of certified organic farmers around the U.S. including in California, Florida, Arizona, Washington and Oregon. Sourcing organic produce throughout a calendar year for a large system like Papa John’s is a real supply chain challenge, so having a partner like Green BEAN is critical.
How long will the pilot program continue?
We plan on reading the Lexington, KY pilot program through a series of key metrics, including consumer feedback through our digital and social media channels. Based on positive feedback we have already received from consumers, we are now in discussions internally around expanding the program to other markets.
Were there or are there discussions about coming out with an entirely organic pizza, not just the four toppings?
Right now, we’re only offering the four organic ingredients: Roma tomatoes, mushrooms, green peppers and yellow onions. As for an entirely organic pizza – that would take some time, but never say never!
What can you disclose about future plans to expand the pilot program and make it a permanent option on your menu nationwide?
Right now, we’re focused on this first step in the organics journey. We would love to see this pilot program take off and give us the opportunity to make organics available on a larger scale. At Papa John’s, we’re committed to our Clean Label journey – so we’re always looking for ways to create more quality options for our customers to enjoy.
What is the price difference between a regular pizza and a pizza with these organic toppings?
The cost of producing certified organic food does come at a premium, and while it will become more efficient over time, that premium won’t entirely go away. But, at Papa John’s, we invest in quality. More specifically, we invest over $100 million annually in our products, research, and development as part of our Clean Label initiative. Customers in the Lexington market can get a certified organic produce, two-topping pizza for just $9.99.
How much of a concern is the supply issue – meaning, getting adequate amounts of organic ingredients to meet demand?
That’s why we partnered with experts in the organics space! As we work through this pilot and explore the viability of offering organic ingredients on a larger scale, those are ongoing conversations we’re having with Green BEAN Delivery.
Not only is this pilot program a very shrewd business decision, but it demonstrates that Papa John’s is truly committed to offering the best ingredients — organic ones — to its customers.
Most importantly, this move will also encourage its competitors to follow suit and could serve as a key spark for the entire restaurant industry to give organic a much more serious look. This will have very positive ramifications in changing the overall supply chain and getting more farmers to transition to organic. That is the bigger picture here.
I have no doubt that this organic pilot program at Papa John’s will be a massive success, and it is only a matter of time before the company makes organic a permanent fixture on its menu everywhere.
Sean Muldoon and the entire Papa John’s organization deserve serious praise for taking its menu in this direction.
Needless to say, this is a phenomenal development.