Next up in our exclusive speaker Q&A series is Zoe Bowley, UK & Ireland managing director at PizzaExpress.  A member of PizzaExpress’ UK Board since 2011 (first as operations director, then UK chief operating officer, and now MD), she’ll be discussing their Transformation agenda and sharing insights into how they are ‘Keeping PizzaExpress relevant after 53 years’.

What do you see as key trends for the casual dining sector in the coming year? 

The continuing cost pressure remains a certainty so it is important to embrace the trends to grow the top line.
• Digital and technology innovation – connecting with customers in new ways will be key.
• Focusing on the ‘promiscuous’ Gen Z – loyalty is less of a factor for the new generation and agility of bringing experience and being relevant is key.
• Health agenda and the growth of specialised diets with gluten free/vegan etc. being top of mind.
• Maintaining a clear differentiated offer in a crowded market place.

What do you feel is the key for operators, like you, to successfully compete against your competitors?

PizzaExpress has been a firm favourite of the nation since 1965 creating memories and experiences through generations.  While it dominates the pizza sector and has a differentiated offering with the quality and range of pizza and teams who have stayed with us for many years, we can never get complacent and we constantly review market trends and competitors to innovate.

There has been significant disruption in the market over the last 18 months and while PE has shown resilience, 2018 sees an important year for critical innovation around food, format, digital and people strategy.  We have restructured the business to put focus in areas we believe will give us competitive advantage for the coming years.

Who or what inspires you to be even better?

To work with brands and teams, from any industry background, that are able to balance their history and heritage whilst being forward looking and constantly innovating. To be a business that is able to blend its past with embracing the fast paced world around it and maintaining its market leadership is what inspires PizzaExpress to continue to be a brand people love.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?

Think about what or who could put you out of business and use it as your competitive advantage to think differently.

Describe the Casual Dining trade show in 3 words:

Insightful, collaborative, innovative.

How important is the show to you and the sector?

It is important to connect with competitors and trade alike to ensure we share best practice and continue to focus on making this sector an attractive place to work and deliver memorable experiences.  Casual Dining is a chance to share thinking and discuss the big topics facing the market, as well as to meet both new supplier opportunities and network with industry contacts.

Can you tell us a bit about your much anticipated session at Casual Dining 2018?

Given the history of PizzaExpress, there is huge loyalty to our much loved brand.  We have spent the last six months planning and understanding to ensure we embrace the change in the sector and are equipped to invest in the right areas to drive growth.

Framed as our Transformation agenda, there is a focus on our 10,000 strong teams to ensure we are attracting and retaining the best.  In tough times it is easy to default to cost measures but we are investing heavily in our teams — initially through a transforming Leadership programme and then with a number of engagement initiatives to ensure that we are a truly great place to work for any team member.

More than ever our strategy will be grounded in the customer and, again, we are investing heavily in why people come to PizzaExpress and how we keep relevant for the future generations informing format, food, design, experience and embracing the digital consumer.  And while PizzaExpress in the UK and Ireland remains the dominant market, our strategy remains to invest and grow our other equity markets in China and Hong Kong and ensure we are set up as a global business across our markets.

See Zoe at Casual Dining 2018

Keeping PizzaExpress relevant after 53 years: 11am in the Keynote Theatre on Thursday 22 February.  

To register for a free trade ticket, please click here.
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