State of the Brand :: by Jason Voiovich

A weekly discussion of how branding affects the world around you.

zpizza’s image is holding it back

Posted on | March 7, 2011 | 4 Comments

Jason Voiovich

Key Points:
1. Pizza chain “zpizza” really isn’t a pure pizza chain at all – it’s mix of eclectic ingredients and diverse menu options put it in a different category.
2. But the name and image keep it tethered to a “Shakey’s Pizza” image – cardboard, suburban generica.
3. If it can better align its image with its offering, I think more people will come to appreciate that zpizza has to offer an increasingly health-conscious public.

Do you remember that show “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy”?

Five well-coiffed gay men would jump out of their spanky fresh GMC Yukon at the door of some gomer who couldn’t dress himself, clean up after himself, or cook for himself if his life depended on it. (I always seemed to identify with the gomer…)

The premise of the show was pretty simple, and very similar to other “makeover” shows before and since: Underneath the sloppy exterior is something worth seeing. In other words, if you’re tempted to say “judge a book by its cover”, get a new cover!

The “Fab Five” might be off the air, but it seems my new friends at zpizza could use a little of the same tough love. So, in the spirit of makeover shows everywhere, I’ll put on my best fantabulous glasses and get to work.

First, a little background. My wife sent me into zpizza in Roseville last week because she heard of their gluten free pizza crust. And since we discovered my oldest son’s wheat allergy, a passable pizza has been high on our list of must-finds. I have to admit, I’ve driving by the zpizza hundreds of times. It’s in the same strip mall as my beloved local Byerly’s. In fact, I think it replaced some generic take-n-bake place a couple of years back.


From the beginning, the image just rubbed me the wrong way. “zpizza” just seemed like the name some entrepreneur with a misplaced sense of alphabetical primacy came up with (Hey, if everyone’s trying to be at the front of the alphabet, I’ll be at the back). Or they just thought the word “pizza” didn’t have enough “z’s”, and why not add a third. Dumb either way. When you add a logo of pizza slices forming a “Z” shape and the overused Futura geometric font, you get the overwhelming feeling this is just some run of the mill pizza joint that will feature a “for lease” sign within a few months.

That might be the image, but that’s not the reality.

Now I’m not a foodie, and I don’t like to gush over anything (my Nespresso machine being a lone exception), but the difference between the image of zpizza and the reality of zpizza is so markedly different, that I think it’s instructive.

To begin, the gluten-free pizza was good. Damn good. Not only was it tasty, the guy in the restaurant knew the answers to all of the gluten-free questions: Are the pans and utensils dedicated. Yes. What about cross contamination? No regular flour in the entire restaurant. What about the toppings? We’ll tell you what’s okay and what’s not. They knew their . . . pizza.

But it wasn’t just that they knew how to make a gluten-free pie. The menu was affordable, and incredible. Real Greek. Real Thai. Real Italian. And that was just the pizzas. The sandwich choices were just as appealing. And the salads: The Gorgonzola, pear, field greens, vinaigrette, candied walnuts is on my list for lunch. Do I want vegan cheese? If I do, they’ve got it. Everything except the quick-slices are made to order.

This reminds me of a place I should find in Uptown, or on Grand Avenue, not in the middle of suburban franchise-land.

And that’s really the point. Bringing the “good food” out to the suburbs – minus the pretentiousness – is a hugely appealing value proposition. But “zpizza” isn’t going to cut it.

As sad as it sounds, the brand image of this chain is its own worst enemy. “zpizza” just sounds chain-like and generic. If I was used to Cafe Latte on Grand or Chino Latino in Uptown, there’s no way I’d be walking into zpizza on my way past the mall. The visual treatment doesn’t help. What might seem “clean and geometric” is antithetical to the natural, unprocessed, organic, and vegan options you can find inside. In other words, unless you’re like me, and are actively seeking out options, you’d never find it.

But you should.

The chain has a great story. Since its beginnings in Laguna Beach, California, zpizza has been pioneering a different way to make pizzas and choose ingredients at a time when Domino’s and Pizza Hut were commoditizing it. They’ve grown slowly and established a bit of a loyal following, but I would argue they are significantly below their potential. With more of us taking more care over what we put into our bodies, I think zpizza’s time is here.

The company needs to take advantage. New name. New logo. New visual presence. Don’t change a darn thing on the menu.

I don’t mean to suggest that’s easy, or cheap, but I think it’s all they need to really get noticed.

Related links:
zpizza website


4 Responses to “zpizza’s image is holding it back”

  1. Neil
    March 8th, 2011 @ 10:12 am

    As a big fan of zpizza in Northern Virginia, I think you hit the nail on the head. My favorite part of being a zpizza fan is introducing my “little secret” to my friends who are quite shocked that they can get such a high quality product at a decent price. Even friends who live right down the street from one of their newer locations hadn’t heard of it when we introduced it to them.

    We feed our family on zpizza at least once or twice a month and unlike Dominoes or other chains, you feel like you are actually giving your family a decent meal. Throw in one of their salads and it is a relatively healthy experience. On the branding front, you may not have noticed, but on their website they have actually rolled out a new logo and are playing up a bit more of the “pure” aspect of their product. Maybe this will help it take off and I will be able to point to this blog as showing that I was a big fan before they went big time.

  2. Vincent
    March 30th, 2011 @ 8:36 pm

    It’s interesting how you start off your commentary. You’re really struggling to understand why they put the z in front of
    zpizza. It’s marketing 101. People remember the
    letter z more than any other letter in the alphabet. I disagree about their logo. I think it’s refreshing and urban. I’m from NYC but reside in Minneapolis. The suburbs want to feel like they’re getting a dose of urban culture. Futurism is everything right now. Computers, ipads, iphones, technology is in our dna now and forever. So, why wouldn’t a young company want to project that image?
    Granted. There’s also nothing wrong with going against the grain and coming out with something like a rustic image, thus standing out from the futuristic font/logos strategy. Either strategy can work. zpizza’s gluten-free pizza is amazing. I only tried it once in NYC would would like to stock up on them from the Roseville location. In NYC I do recall that they sell them partially frozen. Maybe it will make sense to drop $100 and buy a bunch so I don’t have to commute to Roseville.

  3. Vincent
    March 30th, 2011 @ 8:42 pm

    To you point though…there is something about their logo that lacks permanence. It says fly by night, somewhat. There’s a real movement going on right now called Crowdsourcing. Someone like zpizza could actually use a site like an have people compete to revamp their logo for very little and have customers vote via mobile app. Let their customers choose their new logo, essentially.

  4. Collin
    April 4th, 2011 @ 4:01 pm

    Dualism is one of the worst aspects of American culture. I’m proud of zpizza for being brave enough to fight it.

    Besides which, gluten-free or vegan foods are not necessarily healthy for people who do a lot of brain work (although you’ll rarely hear an American admit this). The zpizza name and logo are saying most people come in but not brainy people. And that shows they have a world-class understanding of health.

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Jason Voiovich
director_corporate marketing, Logic PD
Black Belt
Caffeine Addict

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