Welcome back to the popular pan pizza scene, Papa John's (PZZA) . On Monday, the fast-food pizza chain debuted pan pizza across its over 3,500 restaurants in North America. As simple as a pan pizza sounds -- it's basically dough pressed into a thick pan -- Papa John's was in no rush to get the product to market. "We've been working for a year and a half on this pan pizza to get it absolutely perfect for our pizza fans," said Steve Ritchie, President and COO of Papa John's in a statement. Papa John's began testing pan pizza in June in parts of Kentucky, Denver, Co. and Indiana, and has seen sales increase significantly in those test markets explained Chief Ingredient Officer Sean Muldoon in an interview. "That strong response [in the test markets] told us we had been losing out on business to competitors in pan pizza, and had a real opportunity here," added Muldoon. The reason behind Papa John's methodical roll-out of pan pizza could be easily explained: it wants to get it right this time around. Papa John's sold a pan pizza before -- called Papa John's Perfect Pan Pizza -- starting in 2005. It was discontinued in 2009 as it was unable to make a significant inroad into Pizza Hut's (a division of Yum! Brands (YUM) ) pan pizza dominance (Pizza Hut has sold pan pizza since 1980). Since Papa John's exit from the pan pizza market, Domino's (DPZ) successfully entered the category in September 2012. Domino's sales quickly picked up in the two quarters following its heavily marketed foray into pan pizza. "Our digital platform and handmade pan pizza were both a big part of what drove traffic," said Domino's CEO Patrick Doyle on a July 23, 2013 call with analysts. "If Papa John's decides to roll out its newest pan pizza nationwide in the U.S. it could make for a fairly big product launch," wrote Nomura analyst Mark Kalinowski in a note last month. According to Muldoon, this time around Papa John's invested more in R&D for the pan pizza to ensure what happened a few years back doesn't go down again.
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