CHICAGO — Although sales in 2008 and into 2009 have been mostly flat throughout most of the limited-service pizza industry, some chain operators are succeeding through focused positioning, said foodservice industry consultant Technomic.

The fastest-growing chains are characterized by strong differentiation, according to the new "2009 Technomic Top 100 Limited-Service Pizza Chains Restaurant Report," which analyzes and profiles the leading chains against the background of industry trends and metrics.

"Most successful pizza chains have staked out highly defined market positions that allow them to stand out from the pack," says Darren Tristano, executive vice-president. "The key to growth in the slow economy will be differentiation. Top players will have to understand the competition, successfully identify emerging trends, and find and execute a strong position in the market."

Other findings include:

  • The Top 100 pizza chains had U.S. sales of $18.8 billion in 2008, up 2% over 2007. The total limited-service pizza industry grossed $29 billion, with growth comparable to the total restaurant industry at 0.4%.
  • Pizza Hut led the Top 100 chains with $5.3 billion in U.S. sales in 2008, up 3.9% over 2007; it also registered unit growth of 1.3%. Domino’s Pizza and Papa John’s followed with $3 billion and $2 billion in sales, respectively. Papa John’s grew sales by slightly more than 3%, while Domino’s netted a decrease in sales of almost 5% in 2008.
  • In the limited-service pizza segment, four out of the 10 fastest-growing chains by percentage of sales growth were in the fast-casual sub-segment: Straw Hat Pizza, ZPizza, Puccini’s Smiling Teeth Pizza and RedBrick Pizza.