By Khushboo Jogi
To spotlight our theme on Community this month, we are highlighting the great work of PizzaExpress. The Hong Kong based British pizza chain, PizzaExpress, have set themselves up as a proactive market leader by achieving a balance between sustainability and operational strategy. A big congratulations to PizzaExpress for celebrating their 20th anniversary this year in Hong Kong! Over the years the restaurant chain has cultivated strong, everlasting partnerships to promote sustainable living to their customers through a holistic dining experience. As John Lui, the International Brand and Marketing Director of PizzaExpress puts it “sustainability is a multifaceted thing where everyone has to play a part – and no one can really not play a part – in order for it to really work.”
The recipe for sustainable living
PizzaExpress have seamlessly integrated their mission of sustainable living into their business strategy, culture, and operation. Behavioural change is a big factor that started PizzaExpress on this journey, with a foundation of education for all stakeholders. With support from top executives and training the bottom line, the restaurant chain has been able to make sustainability the norm in all of their decisions: “It was very much built within and stitched up within the DNA of PizzaExpress Hong Kong.”
The understanding that cost effective business decisions and sustainable initiatives are in fact not mutually exclusive, opened up the avenue for PizzaExpress to understand that they play a vital role as one of the key communicators in teaching their staff and customers about social and environmental causes: “We started to really work through the grapevine. Meaning, we understood that even our staff needed to see that we as an organization are trying to make a difference.”
Internally, PizzaExpress have ensured that their staff understand the importance sustainability holds in the organisation, conducting a lot of “immersive internal marketing” as John likes to call it. In addition to making behavioural changes, the next important step is to teach employees why those changes are imperative for a bigger cause: “I’m sure a lot of people will come back doing some great projects, but does that necessarily change habits? Does that necessarily change views? I think that needs a much longer timeline and it’s almost like a branding project. It needs to be multifaceted, that’s how I think we fundamentally deal with and think about these things.”
Their multifaceted approach has put them in a position to be the first players in the market to make positive changes. PizzaExpress is believed to be one of the first restaurants to ban the use of single use straws in 2017 at all branches across the city. In addition to that, for the longest time, the restaurant chain is using biodegradable takeaway packaging and has stopped utilizing single-use cutlery. While, in the kitchen, the repurposing of their food waste is a standard practice – pizza dough, one of their key elements, is turned into dough balls and flatbreads. These changes have been brought about by communicating, educating and training the staff to bring about collective change in the organisation. But that is not where PizzaExpress’ sustainable living immersive plan ends.
Pizzas are for sharing
PizzaExpress’ proactive approach has helped them build long-term partnerships, carefully aligning them with their brand and their three pillars of sustainable living – good health, welfare of future generations, and causes relevant to Hong Kong. PizzaExpress have worked with a plethora of charities and non-profits since its inception, by acknowledging the mutual benefits brought about by educating customers: “I can help on my side, and I know that you can help on your side. So that’s the natural symbiotic relationship.”
The deliberateness behind their collaborations across Hong Kong shows the key elements of being a sustainable business: being able to push for positive change while bringing economic benefits & planning the longevity for the planet, people, and business. Indeed, “Through a collective or an agreeable cause through a platform or an organization or an institution, suddenly you have a captive audience that are willing to listen to you in a certain language or in a certain way.” Finding a pathway to relate to customers through the credibility of third party organizations, brings about a multitude of benefits. Not only financial gains for the business, but also having PizzaExpress as a vehicle to support the charities and organizations they work with: “We do really ultimately try to channel all of our weight or interpretation or manifestations of these collaborations through our food, which is what we’re strong at, and through the staff or the serving and the environment of the restaurant.”
PizzaExpress have established long-term partnerships with organisations such as the Child Welfare Scheme (11 years) and Redress (8 years) by engaging customers to make positive social change through their choices on the menu. The longest partnership that PizzaExpress has is with the Cancer Fund, their first partner working with them for 18 years. “Cancer Fund, were our first partners and we slowly built this whole thing and made this to be what PizzaExpress Hong Kong’s sustainable vision is.” Through their long-term partnerships with charitable organizations and non-profits, PizzaExpress has been able to raise a sizable donation of HKD10 million.
Dinner table conversations – Hopes & Challenges
With sustainability becoming an increasingly discussed topic within the business world, more companies are working towards a circular and/or green model. In the past 20 years, PizzaExpress have done their best with the resources they have: through strong collaborations, making eco-friendly swaps, procuring sustainable and high quality ingredients, all as a foundation to showcase to their customers that their conscious consumption can make a difference. By doing so, PizzaExpress have refined the craft of finding unique and creative ways to engage their customers to learn more about pressing issues locally and globally. For instance, PizzaExpress hosted a ‘Zero Waste Cook Off’ in 2018 with chef Dan Segall and guest chef Neil Tomes. The chefs took creative and unconventional approaches to use every last bit of their ingredients and eliminate all the waste created during the cooking process: “The purpose was really explaining what was their inspiration, why was zero waste a thing for them, or why do we (as consumers) need to care? The idea was, we really wanted to use an immersive experience to try and pull out a message. It was basically the mantra behind this.”
However, even with their proactive approach, the journey has not been easy for PizzaExpress. There are many social and economic factors that they need to consider when planning new collaborations and campaigns, primarily focusing on how to convey the message to the customers and how they will receive it: “I’ve always wanted to do more, but the reality is ultimately there’s only so far a restaurant group can convey a message relevantly, credibly and, authoritatively.”
That being said, PizzaExpress still relentlessly fights to find new and innovative solutions. Working together with the wider network brings about the much needed collective collaboration to tackle large obstacles. Knowing their strengths and limitations has allowed them to position their strategies to achieve an overall positive impact on society and the environment. PizzaExpress have big plans for the future – until then they will keep doing what they do best – serve you a delicious pizza with a side of sustainability.