Big Data Turns Pig’s Blood and Century Eggs Into Hot Pizza Toppings
(Bloomberg) -- Big data is helping create your pizza -- at least in Taiwan, where the latest nontraditional topping features a mash of pig’s blood cake and century eggs.
As demand for western fast food boomed during Taiwan’s recent Covid-19 lockdown, Pizza Hut Holdings LLC scraped social media posts for the most talked about foods, and created word clouds of potential new ingredients.
“We leveraged social listening to understand customers’ preferences,” said Antony Leung, general manager of Pizza Hut Taiwan. “Online data also told us that Taiwan customers value local flavors and a food sensation.”
It’s not the first time Taiwan has seen an unconventional blend of western and local ingredients. In 2019, Domino’s Pizza Inc. created the boba -- a pizza served with sweet tapioca pearls as an homage to the popular bubble milk tea. The fusion stirred a buzz on social media and Pizza Hut came up with its own toppings, including ramen and spicy hot pot. It even made a pizza topped with durian -- a thorny fruit with creamy custard-like flesh and a powerful odor.
The latest concoction coincided with growing demand for western takeaways as Taiwanese were locked down to contain a Covid-19 outbreak that began in early May. While the island’s food and beverages sector suffered a near 40% slump in sales in June, American chains such as Pizza Hut, Domino’s and KFC outperformed with a 3.6% rise, according to the Ministry of Economic Affairs.
Read More: Booming Chip Exports Mask Misery in Taiwan’s Services Sectors
“During the lockdown, consumers preferred meals that are clean, convenient, and cheap,” said Ken Chen, co-founder of iCHEF, a Taipei-based company that provides analytical marketing for Taiwan’s food and beverages industry. “That all worked in favor for American fast food chains.”
The flurry of demand for nontraditional pizzas also reflects the tendency of Taiwanese to follow trends, according to Sungjun Park, assistant professor in the department of Business Administration at National Chengchi University in Taipei.
“Taiwan’s Generation Z are constantly looking for attention-grabbing materials to post on Instagram,” he said.
Yum! Brands Inc., which franchises Pizza Hut, KFC and Taco Bell in more than 150 countries and territories worldwide, has followed an “adopt and adapt” strategy, also known as “localization,” in several Asian nations. South Korea has the bulgogi pizza with marinaded BBQ beef; India has butter chicken; while Japan has experimented with natto -- a traditional food made from fermented soybeans.
“When international chains want to stabilize market power in a foreign location, this is the go-to method,” said Hong Kong-based Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Angela Hanlee.
The data-generated approach seems to have worked in Taiwan. The latest invention -- featuring a street delicacy made of sticky rice and pig’s blood, and preserved eggs -- broke Pizza Hut’s previous sales record set by the durian pizza in 2019, according to Leung. One was bought every 8 seconds and the creation was sold out just 4 days after the launch in late June, early July, the company said.
And like previous toppings, it swiftly trended on social media. Aaron Yan, a popular Taiwanese singer and actor, with more than 1.6 million followers on Facebook, said in a post the pizza was delicious. Sandra Chuang, a Twitter user in Taichung City, noted it was a “very Taiwanese taste.”
“Every now and then, Taiwanese will go crazy over a new popular, well-talked about food,” said Clarissa Wei, a writer and film maker focusing on food and culture. “Taste does not seem to be their top priority.”
That seemed to be the case for Henry Hung, who works in the IT industry in Taipei and turned to Pizza Hut’s latest creation to spice up an “online hangout” with friends during lockdown.
“I only bought the pig’s blood pizza out of curiosity and the temptation to try something weird and new,” he said. While the “overall taste was acceptable and flavors were balanced,” Hung said he wouldn’t order it again.
©2021 Bloomberg L.P.