Hell Pizza Discusses Effects of Lockdown

New Zealand-based Hell Pizza creates premium pizzas with high-quality New Zealand sourced ingredients. With 76 franchises and steadily growing, the chain has remained strong throughout the pandemic, turning its focus inwards to those who keep the flames burning. 

"We focus on high-quality products," said Ben Cumming, CEO.

"As a New Zealand brand, customers have the option of shopping local when they go to Hell, which is appreciated during times like these."

Throughout 2021, Hell Pizza was on track to reach record sales until the level 4 lockdown closed its entire network. Two-thirds of stores were able to reopen in level 3, whilst Auckland remains in level 4.

"What we see is after level 4, we have a temporary surge in sales as everyone orders their favourite takeaways," said Cumming.

"We appreciate that because we know those customers have chosen us over all the other choices. This is a sign of a strong brand," he added.

Franchisees benefit from being part of the group, with financial and resource support available.

"We feel sorry for those who are on their own. We are fortunate with our business, and we hope everyone can bounce back."

As a predominantly takeaway and delivery food service, Cumming said they hadn't changed much in terms of offerings.

"After the lockdown in 2020, we established beer and wine delivery, which we've slowly grown after the last year. With people wanting more of their goods delivered, what better way to tack on some beer or wine.

"At the moment, we're focusing on gift vouchers. So, even those that aren't open will be sitting on vouchers for when the levels shift."

It is well-known that food businesses are focusing more on online delivery now, but that has always been a strength for Hell Pizza. One thing Cumming has noticed is how dining patterns have shifted.

"People are eating in their bubbles more," he said.

"People have more time to cook, so they're not following the same pattern of what nights of the week they get takeaways or what time."

When New Zealand went into its first lockdown in 2020, many businesses realised they needed an online presence and had to navigate delivery.

"We already had those things well-established," said Cumming.

"We have our own delivery drivers which we can scale and use when we need, which means we don't always need to pay through the nose for third-party service providers. We use our custom delivery app and have our website and apps already set up to capitalise on. In contrast, a lot of restaurants had to launch these services through UberEats, which hurts their profit margin.

"We definitely benefited from that work that went into the systems pre-Covid."

In-dining is not completely switched off yet, said Cumming, but home delivery is the direction many businesses and the industry is gradually shifting towards.

"I think in future our franchises will be designed with a smaller front of house, but with fun brand engagement features for people to enjoy and improve convenience.

Cumming said there is still a place for dining. The social experience is where Hell Pizza thrives, but many more people are sharing that social experience in their homes.

"We don't want to see the dining out culture disappear. We don't want people to become hermits, so it's about finding that balance."

Hell Pizza is rising to the tide with its deliveries by making all pizza deliveries carbon neutral.

"Sustainability is dear to our heart, and we consider ourselves a leader in this field," said Cummings.

"The next step is investing in new tools so we can reduce emissions of our deliveries by using electric vehicles.

"This requires a massive capital upgrade which we're not quite ready to do yet, but we will slowly phase into it."

Recycling is also an integral part of Hell Pizza's operations, with packaging made from recycled fibres and almost 100 percent recyclable packaging.

Once Auckland gets out of lockdown, all Hell Pizza's stores will reopen, the fire will burn bright again with the surge of popularity, said Cumming.

"Our business is suited to post-lockdown operation. We're a safe option for customers to rely on if they don't want to go out, and limited capacity settings in cafes and restaurants will work well for us."

For the foreseeable future, Cumming said they would focus on consolidating the platform they have, ensuring franchisees are enjoying their life in 'Hell' and will continue to be resilient with all the unpredictable changes on the horizon.

"Everything has been flipped upside down, so you learn to be grateful and appreciate what you have.

"If Covid taught us one thing, it taught us to be more appreciative of our staff and franchisees and how hard everyone works. It forced us to reflect on that and improve how we engage with everyone involved, and that's been the game-changer."