Yum! Brands (NYSE:YUM) might want you to think its Pizza Hut chain is concerned about the number of calories you're eating, but its new "Skinny Slice" pizza is nothing more than a price hike wrapped in health consciousness.
The casual dining pizzeria recently revealed it is testing in two markets a new healthy pizza that, according to the Associated Press, features slices containing 300 or fewer calories. But to get those supposed slimming qualities, all Pizza Hut is really doing is using less dough and skimping on the toppings. You're apparently still getting the same 14-inch pie you're accustomed to, only less of it. For the same price.
If Kellogg reduced the amount of Frosted Flakes that came in a cereal box but still charged the same amount, you'd recognize right away that what it was really doing was raising prices. What it likely wouldn't do, though, was tell you that what you the cereal you were eating was better for you.
It's not hard to see why the pizza joint is doing this. Last quarter, sales fell 1% to $142 million even though the number of restaurants open rose 2% year over year to more than 13,330 units. With comparable-store sales falling 3% in the second quarter, the chain's operating profits, which accounted for 15% of Yum! Brands total in 2013, plunged 22%. In short, Pizza Hut is trying to bolster its bottom line by cutting costs, but telling its customers it's looking out for their waistlines.
It's not like pizza itself is exactly a healthy meal. According to Pizza Hut's website, a regular cheese slice of its large pan pizza is 350 calories, 150 of them from fat. Even its "Thin and Crispy" pie, which the Skinny Slice most seems to emulate, has 260 calories, 100 of which come from fat.
The most fattening slice on its menu, however, is the Meat Lover's large pan pie, that weighs in at 470 calories, although if you ate a whole 6-inch personal pan Meat Lover's pie -- something not completely beyond the realm of possibility -- you'd be scarfing down 850 calories with more than half of them coming from fat.
Healthy pizza is not an oxymoron
Domino's Pizza (NYSE:DPZ) also unveiled a better-for-you pizza recently that it called Smart Slice, but rather than underweighting its pie, it chose to use healthier or less fattening ingredients.
Over half of the crust is made up of whole wheat flour, while the mozzarella cheese has half the fat of regular cheese, and the sauce has 35% less sodium. The toppings are on the light side, too, with the pepperoni, for example, a third less fat and half the sodium of regular pepperoni. It also offers leaner sources of protein, like ham and chicken, as well as vegetable toppings.
Other companies whose food isn't typically thought of as "healthy" have tried to offer consumers lighter fare with mixed success.
You can never be too rich or too thin.
Last year, mall-based pizzeria Sbarro, which emerged from bankruptcy in June, also offered a 270-calorie "Skinny Slice," seemingly jumping onto the whole "skinny" fad that seemed to have been popularized by reality TV star Betheny Frankel's line of Skinnygirl cocktails. Even Cheesecake Factory (NASDAQ:CAKE) debuted its Skinnylicious menu a few years back that's still featured today.
However, after less than a year on the menu, Burger King Worldwide (UNKNOWN:BKW.DL) dumped its low-cal, less fat Satisfries because they were a complete flop. Maybe if they called them "skinny fries" they would've done better.
Does this pizza make me look fat?
In the end, there's nothing wrong with Pizza Hut wanting to beef up its profits -- in fact, it needs to. But the pizza chain would do better by its customers if didn't make it seem like it was more concerned about their well being than its bottom line, and just gave them the skinny on what it was really trying to do.
Rich Duprey has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Burger King Worldwide. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.