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Can curried crust and balsamic drizzle help Pizza Hut?

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Pizza Hut, the nation’s biggest pizza chain, is overhauling its brand. There’s a new logo, a more casual uniform and fresh leadership. But the biggest upgrade is the menu.  

Taking a hint from “fast casual” stars Chipotle and Chop’t, Pizza Hut will allow customers to design their own pies as they choose from such ingredients as curry-flavored crusts and Sriracha sauce. The chain is doubling flavor options and going exotic. 

The question is: Can those changes help Pizza Hut get back on track?  It has reported same-store sales declines for eight straight quarters, while rivals like Domino’s Pizza and Little Caesars have enjoyed gains. 

At Pizza Hut’s Plano, Texas, headquarters, chief marketing officer Carrie Walsh shows off what looks like artisan pizza  a thin-crust pie with bright green spinach and red Peruvian peppers, topped with a spiral swirl of balsamic.

More than two dozen new ingredients are featured on Pizza Hut’s “Flavor Of Now” menu. Customers will be able to choose flavors to brush onto crusts with names like “Pretzel Piggy” and “Ginger Boom Boom.” There are four drizzles, and a skinny lineup for those seeking a lighter, healthier pie.

“There are now 2 billion ways you can customize your pizza,” Walsh says.

Customers want flavor adventure, Walsh says, so why not let them play mad scientist with each pie?

“Pizza is America’s favorite food. We thought it made sense to bring new flavor experiences to pizza,” she says.

But 2 billion customization options is overkill, says Rich Duprey, who writes about fast-casual dining for The Motley Fool. He’s also a former pizza deliveryman.

Pizza Hut needed to sprinkle in a little spice, but not drop in the whole spice bottle, Duprey says. 

“Sales 101 says keep it simple,” he says. “A confused mind always says no.”  

In an attempt to prevent chaos behind the counter, Pizza Hut undertook its biggest training endeavor. Walsh is confident the plethora of new options won’t slow down service or delivery. They’ve been working on the rebranding for a year, she says.

The new menu was expected to be up in 6,000 Pizza Hut stores as of Wednesday.

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