Uno's New Game-Changing Menu Focuses on Healthier Options and Specialty Diets
Over the past 75 years, Uno Pizzeria & Grill’s menu has featured indulgent, American Italian comfort food. While healthy options have made their way onto the menu over the past few years, the brand, which created deep dish pizza in 1943, hasn’t always highlighted those options.
That strategy ended when it launched the new “Love All, Feed All” menu to all 85 locations on October 22. The massive menu overhaul comes after a long period of testing, Uno’s chief executive Jim Ilaria says.
“It's an acknowledgment on our part that people are eating healthier and in different ways,” he says.
From 600-calorie pizzas to brand new vegan offerings, there are more than 50 different menu items for people with specialty diets to choose from in the new menu insert. Some of the menu items are pulled from Uno’s regular menu, however, a large number were created specifically for the new menu. Having all of the specialty diet offerings in one place makes the menu more navigable for guests, Ilaria says.
The strategy not only opens the door for new guests to try the brand for the first time, but it’s also a way for guests who dine at Uno only occasionally to increase their frequency. By expanding this part of the brand’s offerings, there are more opportunities for guests to dine at Uno, Ilaria says.
“I believe that it's going to introduce a whole new group of people to Uno’s,” says Kim Boynton, Uno’s senior director of marketing. “It’s a whole new way to use the brand. But then it's also a way for those people who maybe love our deep dish pizza but can't have it on the regular. This gives them all new opportunities to come in more regularly.”
The size of the new menu insert was intentional. “At Uno’s we don’t do anything small,” Ilaria says. While other brands are looking to take complexity out of their system, the addition of 50 new products is a symbol of how dedicated the brand is to the shifting needs of guests.
“It’s big and shows our commitment to these categories,” Ilaria adds. “This is a game changer. We want to be known for being on the leading edge and listening to guests and inviting them back in.”
Instead of offering a limited list of alternative options, Ilaria wanted to show guests that Uno respects their eating habits and give them a variety of options to choose from.
“It's really a drop the mic moment for Uno’s compared to other concepts,” Ilaria says. “We believe in this. We’re not saying you're different to guests and we’ll accommodate you only with one or two dishes we’re saying you're important enough to us to have your own menu.”
The vast size of new items and the special preparation that goes into making them really hasn’t put a strain on operations, Ilaria says. Gluten-free pizza is already on the menu and the kitchen has a special preparation process to avoid cross-contamination. The brand is taking what it’s learned from this one menu category to ensure everything from vegan to vegetarian food is processed correctly. Even though there are dozens of new dishes, only four new raw materials have been added to the system, Ilaria says.
Uno’s commitment to these healthier options doesn’t mean it’s sacrificing flavor, Boynton says. Uno’s executive chef Andre Fuehr incorporated rich and expensive ingredients, like caramelized onion, roasted garlic, and wild mushrooms, into the new lineup of pizzas to keep the menu interesting. The pizza dough is also the same dough used in Uno’s deep dish pizzas, so guests can expect the flavor in a lighter package.
“It's not about a 600 calorie pizza,” Boynton says. “It’s about a 600-calorie pizza that's as amazing as our deep dish is.”
The decision to go vegan
Originally, vegan options were left out of the new lineup. Ilaria thought the brand was representing a large enough portion of the population that it didn’t need to go down that road. A phone call from PETA’s David Byer changed his mind.
Byer asked if Uno had any type of vegan option on the menu, which it didn’t at the time. Instead of forcing Ilaria to take of the meat off of the menu, Byer asked him if he would consider adding vegan cheese as an option. Ilaria was hesitant because he wasn’t sure how his franchisees would react to the new option. Byer went on to say he would email the news to Peta’s over 4.5 million e-letter subscribers.
“So I had a business imperative as to why I should consider it,” Ilaria says. “I give David a lot of credit. He approached it from a very reasonable perspective. And we ended up doing it. He really taught a 75-year-old brand how to be a teenager again.”
Vegan cheese from Daiya is now featured on the vegan garden pizza and as a topping in the make-your-own pizza section.
Uno didn’t stop with vegan cheese. It decided to also incorporate Beyond Meat into the menu with a new Classic Beyond Burger offering.
“I am incredibly proud of this new menu, one that will appeal to a broad range of new guests thanks partly to plant-based offerings from Beyond Meat and Daiya Foods,” Fuehr said in a statement. “We have always taken great pride in creating quality dishes and handcrafted dough made from scratch every day. Now everyone, regardless of dietary preferences or needs, can experience our unique and delicious meals.”
Even though the new menu just launched, Uno is already seeing a positive response. The Beyond Burger was one of the top sellers and the brand will continue to experiment with ways to incorporate it into the menu, Ilaria says.
“We will update this as we see how things were selling,” he says. “We might even add a different category as they appear. This is a living, breathing menu that we’re committed to.”
The bigger picture
When Ilaria joined Uno last November he brought a plan to get the brand growing again. “It is a brand that deserves to be here and get back to its former glory,” he says.
The future of Uno will come in the form of a smaller restaurant model and new growth strategy. Uno partnered with the Passionality Group, which was created by Daniel del Olmo, the former president of DineEquity's International Business Division, to help develop the brand’s new strategy.
The smaller model will open under the name Uno’s Pizzeria and will be around 3,500 square feet. Unlike Uno’s larger model, the pizzeria will not feature the full bar and grill. “What's happening between take out, third-party delivery, and people are eating differently, we don't need these big boxes,” Ilaria says.
Using a hub and spoke system, the pizzerias will support a system of fast casual locations Uno is in the final stages of developing. Ilaria says Uno will be competing with other fast casual pizza concepts like MOD pizza and Blaze. Each pizzeria will be able to support 3-5 fast casual spokes. Ilaria expects to open at least 150 hubs with 3-5 spokes per hub over the next few years.
Uno is in the middle of negotiations to add the first hub and spoke in Texas early next year. The company plans on adding 3-5 spokes to its existing system in Orlando and Boston early next year as well, Ilaria says.
Ilaria’s plans for Uno’s growth go far beyond the U.S. Uno’s global presence already includes India, Honduras, Qatar, Dubai, and other parts of the Middle East. Ilaria wants to grow the brand to 500-1,000 locations over the next few years.
“We think that Uno’s with its unique deep, deep dish pizza translates all over the world,” he says. “We believe that it's not just about the pizza, but it's also about passion and people coming together and making memories.”
The next phase of global expansion will take Uno into Canada, Mexico, and South America.
“We have big plans inside the U. S. and outside the U.S. and we are not standing still,” Ilaria says. “This brand not only deserves to be here. It deserves to be a global brand.”