Study: Smaller Pizza Chains Successful Despite 'Big 4' Majority Thumbprint

Domino’s, Pizza Hut, Little Caesars and Papa Johns may be the “Big Four” in the pizza category, but they haven’t stopped significant growth among smaller and regional chains, according to a new report from foot traffic analytics firm

The report, which can be found here, takes an in-depth look at five significant smaller chains -- Pizza Guys, Mountain Mike’s, Donatos Pizza, Pizza Factory and Marco’s Pizza -- and what's  behind their increasing share of the pie.

Overall, all five chains saw growth in 2023.

Between July and November 2023, Pizza Guys experienced 9.3% to 18.7% more monthly visits than in 2022, and has several new locations planned for the new year in Texas, Nevada and Oregon.



Mountain Mike’s 300+ West Coast surpassed expectations in the middle-income family market, its prime target.

Donatos Pizza visits in its home state of Ohio were up for all months YOY -- but more interestingly, nationwide visits outpaced Ohio in its over 2,900 stores.

Pizza Factory’s monthly visits surpassed those of the wider pizza segment in all months, with its November 2023 visits up by 6.7% compared to the same month last year.

And Marco’s, with 1,100 units nationwide, also has over 200 new locations in development and identified an additional 4,200 potential locations across the country.

Marketing Daily spoke with R.J. Hottovy, head of analytical research at, about these chains and what their success means.

Marketing Daily: What do you see as the overall takeaway from the report?

Hottovy: While pizza is a competitive restaurant category and the larger players have faced some challenges this year,'s visitation data shows that many smaller chains are still performing well and seeing year-over-year visitation growth.

Marketing Daily: What do you think are some of the key drivers of increased foot traffic in the smaller/regional chains?

Hottovy: A lot of the smaller chains we've highlighted do a good job understanding their customers. A pizza customer in California may look for different things than a pizza customer in the Midwest looks for, and I think these smaller chains often do a good job of understanding and adhering to their customer's different taste profiles, driving increased visits.

Marketing Daily:  There appears to be several new locations in Texas. Any reason why?

Hottovy: Texas has been a strong state for restaurant growth in 2023, and not just pizza chains. Most major markets in the state--including Dallas, Houston, Austin, and San Antonio--have seen their population grow since before the pandemic, which has increased consumer demand and drove increased visits.

Marketing Daily: What is it about the smaller/regional chains that attract customers over the Big Four?

Hottovy: We've seen strong visitation trends for those retailers and restaurant concepts that can offer "innovative value" throughout 2023. In some cases, it's not enough to just be the lowest cost provider, and we've seen consumers respond to those chains that also offer new menu innovation while keeping prices competitive. Many of these smaller chains have done a good job with innovation -- including ingredients and preparation styles that better match their local audience -- which has helped them to stand out from national players. 

Marketing Daily: How does marketing play a role in the popularity of these smaller chains?

Hottovy: Local marketing helps many of these smaller chains, but because of their menu innovation and knowing local taste preferences, many of them are also able to get by on just word-of-mouth marketing from their customers. 

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