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Pizza Hut in Target • Full History

As far back as 2007, Target began to feature in-store Pizza Hut kiosks as part of their popular food court concept. By the end of 2018 there were more than 1,100 Pizza Hut locations within Target, when sales began to decline sharply. In 2019, Target started phasing out Pizza Hut Express in favor of other options. Here's what happened...

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Pizza Hut in Target • Full History - What's in this guide?

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The Early Days (2007-2009)

Some of the earliest iterations of Pizza Hut at Target began popping up around 2007 and 2008, with at least one Florida location reporting positive uptake by customers. The program was largely modeled after Target's successful relationship with Starbucks, which began in 1999 and was so successful that Target was adding about 120 new locations each year by 2002, and most were designed with a Starbucks inside. It's no surprise then that when Target celebrated the 2010 opening of their Wilson Yard location in Chicago, a sprawling 200,000 square foot expanse, it featured both a Pizza Hut Express and a Starbucks in its food court. This served as a major turning point in the history of Pizza Hut at Target, and the partnership expanded greatly thereafter.

Growth and Expansion (2010-2018)

As the two brands continued their symbiotic relationship within Target stores, their managerial structures also began to commingle. In 2018, just a year after it opened 1,000 Pizza Hut Express locations in their stores, Target's CEO, Brian Cornell, officially became Chairman of the Board of Pizza Hut's parent company, Yum! Brands. Though he had already been part of the board for three years, his elevation to a more prominent role signaled that the partnership was strong and growing. By the end of 2018, Target featured more than 1,100 Pizza Hut Locations, not far behind the 1,300 Starbucks Cafes in Target stores, a milestone which was achieved two years earlier.

Decline and Restructuring (2019-2022)

During 2019, the Pizza Hut brand experienced a period of contraction mainly attributed to the proliferation of online delivery services such as Uber Eats, GrubHub, DoorDash, and others. As customers developed a preference for eating in or picking up takeout, restaurants with Pizza Hut's dining room configuration became far less popular– and less profitable. This led Pizza Hut to shutter 500 restaurants, about 8% percent of its 6,100 dine-in locations, in favor of building on its 1,350 existing Pizza Hut Express locations. While the intent was to capitalize on the growing trend of carryout and delivery, Pizza Hut had been known for decades as a dine-in restaurant. This hurt their brand and affected company-wide sales, including at locations within Target, which didn't do delivery and were not very popular carryout spots.

Target Remodeling and Closure of Pizza Hut Locations

Between 2017 and 2021, Target remodeled about 950 of its 1,920 stores, and initiated the closure of hundreds of Pizza Hut locations. This led to a backlash among the Pizza Hut faithful, with several instances of planned Pizza Hut phaseouts being reversed. In at least one reported case, a Starbucks had been allocated a full space in a remodeled Target, only to have to split the space with Pizza Hut after customer complains stopped it from closing. Despite cases like this, numerous Pizza Hut locations continued to fold. Compounding the problem, Target's partnership with Starbucks was only getting stronger. Around this time Starbucks coffee shops were featured in about 70% of all Target stores and the vast majority of the 150 Target stores that were remodeled in 2019 cut out Pizza Hut in favor of Starbucks. Starbucks' better brand image and higher profit margins caused Target to favor its fresh-brewed bestie, as did the longer opening hours. While there's plenty of activity at Starbucks for the entirety of Target's 14-hour day (from 8am to 10pm), Pizza Hut had busy periods around lunch and dinner, with sparse crowds in between.

The COVID-19 Pandemic

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March of 2020, Target reduced its hours and took immediate measures to increase the safety of its team members and guests. This included the closure of its dining areas such as Target Cafes, Pizza Hut Restaurants, Snack Bars, Beverage Bars, and Starbucks Kiosks. A continued avalanche of Pizza Hut closures followed, with dismayed fans declaring a moment of silence for the Pizza Hut in Jersey City's Target. When the dust settled and the pandemic started to subside, there were some isolated reports of active Pizza Hut restaurants within Target stores, but the vast majority had been closed in the two years prior.

The Future of the Target / Pizza Hut Partnership

WIth so many Pizza Huts being phased out of Target, limited dining options remain available within the superstore. Grab-n-go food is available at a snack bar, featuring items like popcorn, chips, sodas, and even some Personal Pan Pizza Hut Pizzas that are available for takeout. However, like Starbucks, Pizza Hut actually appears in Target due to a licensing agreement that allows the retailer to utilize their trademark and branding assets. This license was scheduled to expire in 2023, and with the declining profitability of Target's Pizza Hut kiosks, a license renewal is very much in doubt.

Target Drive Up

The post-pandemic reality put an even greater focus on profitability for Target, and they promptly developed a Drive Up system that offers seamless curbside delivery for orders placed ahead of time. In February of 2022 Target began allowing customers to add Starbucks items to their drive up order through Target's mobile app, notifying the store when the customer is en route so fresh coffee can be prepared for their arrival. In line with this new curbside delivery system, spaces that were left vacant by Pizza Hut are being converted into a holding area for Dive Up orders. This appears to be the most profitable use of the space.

Pizza Hut in Target Menu and Nutritional Information

Target locations that still contain a Pizza Hut restaurant feature the 10 menu items below. You can get the full Pizza Hut nutritional facts on Target's website.

• 6" Cheese Personal Pizza (600 Calories)
• 6" Italian Sausage Personal Pizza (780 Calories)
• 6" Pepperoni Personal Pizza (630 Calories)
• Breadsticks (480 Calories)
• Twisty Cheese Stick w/sauce (450 Calories)
• Chicken Alfredo Tuscani Pasta (640 Calories)
• Meaty Marinara Tuscani Pasta (640 Calories)
• Bacon, Egg & Cheese Biscuit (410 Calories)
• Sausage, Egg & Cheese Biscuit (550 Calories)
• Hashbrowns (190 Calories)

Final Thougts

The years-long relationship between Target and Pizza Hut has certainly seen its share of ups and downs. What once began as a promising endeavor began eroding as the Pizza Hut brand lost popularity and experienced diminishing profitability in its in-store Target locations. The pandemic only accelerated this process, spelling doom for most restaurants and creating boon for many online retailers. It became clear that Target took a laser-focused approach to profitability during this time, capitalizing on the growing trends in e-commerce and leveraging their stores as touch-free pickup centers. While the Target-Starbucks partnership was able to thrive in this newly-created niche, Pizza Hut faltered badly to the point where the space they were occupying in Target became more profitable as a staging area for Target's curbside orders. Given these circumstances, it's hard to see a future for Pizza Hut in Target.

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