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Domino’s Pizza Changes Core Recipe

For folks who get their jollies complaining about the taste of Domino's Pizza, the company is about to do the unthinkable.

The world's largest pizza delivery chain today will unveil plans to change every part of its core pizza.

New crust (added butter, garlic and parsley). New cheese (shredded instead of diced mozzarella, with a hint of provolone). New sauce (sweeter, with a red pepper kick).

The move comes as the $33.5 billion quick-service pizza industry, particularly delivery pizza, has been hit hard by the economy. Delivery sales fell 6% in 2009 through October compared with the same period last year.

The changes also come as the nation's demographics and taste preferences are changing. And they come just weeks before the pizza delivery industry's biggest payday: Super Bowl Sunday. (Yes, Domino's, which turns 50 in 2010, may buy an ad in the big game.)

"The best defense is a good offense," says Russell Weiner, marketing chief at Domino's, which has global sales of $5.5 billion. "We weren't winning against everyone on taste."

That's an understatement. In a 2009 survey of consumer taste preferences among national chains by research firm Brand Keys, Domino's was last - tied with Chuck E. Cheese's.

Perhaps that justifies the radical change, says Robert Passikoff, founder of Brand Keys, who says Domino's ranked first in convenience and price. "This gives Domino's something to talk about on an important issue."

But analysts were hard-pressed to name a major chain that has tried such a change to its core product. "I don't know of any (restaurant) company that has attempted this," says consultant Howard Gordon.

It's like McDonald's changing the ingredients in the Big Mac. Risks are akin to Coca-Cola's change - undone after a fan revolt - in Coke's taste.

"Once you've built a brand, that's your brand," says Gordon. "To change it means that everything you've stood for isn't right."

Perhaps even riskier is the way that Domino's plans to market the change.

Domino's will reach out to food bloggers and others who have criticized the brand in the past and ask them to comment live on the Domino's website about the new formula.

Domino's experienced the downside of social media just eight months ago when two employees posted a hit YouTube video that showed them doing disgusting things with the food - such as putting pizza cheese in their noses. Now, Domino's will turn to social media to embellish the brand.

For the new recipe, Domino's tested dozens of cheeses, 15 sauces and 50 crust-seasoning blends over two years. "We're basically relaunching Domino's Pizza," Weiner says.

Industry taste leader, Papa John's, says it has no plans to mess with its recipe. "To think about changing the recipe that got us where we are today, that's just hard for me to fathom," says spokesman Chris Sternberg.

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