Pizza Hut in Pizza Rut

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It’s a bad time to be Pizza Hut. Once a vaunted destination for screaming teenagers piled into mini-vans, the Hut is evidently no longer as popular as it once was: “The chain suffered a 13 percent drop in sales at stores open at least a year,” according to one report and David Novak, CEO of Yum Brands (Stock Quote: YUM), which owns Pizza Hut, said he has "never seen a softer U.S. consumer than what we're seeing today, in my career.”

It makes sense: there’s a lot of competition for pizza, and many consumers “don't think of Pizza Hut as a value player” when there are many cheaper fast food options out there—McDonald’s (Stock Quote: MCD) and Burger King (Stock Quote: BKC) to name just a few.

It may go beyond just value issues and recession-worn consumers tightening their belts. A recent visit to PizzaHut.com, the brand’s home on the Web, yielded no prominently visible images of pizza-related products until nearly 25 seconds in, when the promotional slide for WingStreet Wings gave way to a Stuffed Crust Pan Pizza teaser.

I understand that people who like pizza also tend to like wings, but when I go to Pizza Hut’s web site, I expect to see pizza pretty much immediately. It’s not called Wing Hut – although that’s not a bad idea.

There’s also the little problem of competition. Domino’s Pizza (Stock Quote: DPZ) has moved aggressively into new markets such as value-priced oven baked sandwiches (think Quiznos and Subway). They’ve seen a big jump in profits recently.

They should all just focus on pizza. Make it better, get it to me faster, for cheaper, and I will keep buying it. You have my word.

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