How Papa is grabbing a pizza the action

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For a man who heads up one of America’s largest pizza chains, Ken Calwell does not strike you as someone who eats much of the stuff.

The CEO of Papa Murphy’s is a former triathlete and self-confessed health and fitness fanatic, and his energetic approach appears to have paid off, as he has turned the Washington-based firm into an $800m per year outfit with more than 1,300 outlets across the US.

All of this is has been done with perhaps one of the most unusual approaches to fast food. Unlike larger competitors Papa John’s and Domino’s, Papa Murphy’s does not cook any of its pizza at its restaurants. After selecting the base and toppings they want, customers take their creation home and bake it themselves. The company calls this “take and bake”.

Calwell, a veteran fast food executive who has held senior roles at Pizza Hut and Domino’s, now plans to bring the concept to the Gulf in a big way. Over the next ten years, Papa Murphy’s will open 100 restaurants across the region, with about half of these in the UAE. The expansion into the Middle East marks the first overseas foray for Papa Murphy’s, with the exception of Canada, where it currently has about 14 restaurants.

“We chose the Middle East and specifically Dubai because of the very business-friendly environment here,” Calwell explains.

“What I’ve seen and researched on Dubai, it’s that people from all over the world live here, so it’s one of those places where you can get a lot of experience very quickly with a very diverse audience.”

The numbers also stack up in terms of the potential market that Papa Murphy’s, which was bought out by US-based Lee Equity Partners in 2010, will be tapping into. The UAE’s fast casual dining sector alone is expected to grow from $6.4bn in 2011 to $8.7bn by 2015, according to research firm Euromonitor, while Saudi Arabia’s market will grow to $4.5bn in the same timeframe.

Calwell says that another reason for choosing to expand into the Gulf is the similar demographic to North America, with more than 50 percent of the population estimated to be aged under 25. “Young people eat more pizza than old people, it’s just a fact. Dubai is very young and the Middle East is very young, compared to many European countries, so this was a high-priority market for those reasons.”

Analysts agree that the Gulf should be a top priority market for fast casual food firms. Michael Schaefer, head of beverages and food service at Euromonitor, says that the region’s industry is one of the fastest growing on the planet.

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