New York CNN Business  — 

Early in the pandemic, people couldn’t get enough pizza. Now, not so much.

Papa Johns’ sales are still up, but growth is slowing. In the second quarter, sales at its North American restaurants open at least a year grew just under 1%, down from 5% in the the same period last year. In the second quarter of 2020, sales jumped 28%.

One reason for the slowdown: People may be getting tired of pizza.

“There’s a general thought that there could be a little bit of pizza fatigue,” Scott Rodriguez, SVP of menu strategy and innovation at Papa Johns. “Because that’s all we’ve had for the last couple of years.”

To get people excited about pizza again, Papa Johns is offering a new spin on the classic, with Papa Bowls that are all topping — no crust.

Papa Bowls are all topping, no crust.

The Papa Bowl comes in three varieties, Garden Veggie, Chicken Alfredo and Italian Meats Trio. They are available to the company’s loyalty members this week and will roll out nationally next, and cost $7.99.

At first, Papa Johns thought the bowls might be well received as a healthier alternative to pizza. But the company learned people still want “the indulgence of pizza,” Rodriguez said.

Papa Johns hopes the new item will eliminate the “veto vote,” when an eatery gets ruled out because it doesn’t have enough options for everyone in the dining party. The idea is that if one person doesn’t want pizza, the group can still go to Papa Johns and that person will still find something to eat.

Papa Johns’ approach to innovation

Adding new items to the menu is an important way for restaurants to boost sales and create buzz. But companies have to be strategic when they make changes, especially now with supply chains disrupted and large swings in ingredient prices.

Thinking about whether ingredients will be cost effective and available is “step number two right now,” said Rodriguez. “It never used to be that way,” he added. That means that Rodriguez’s team has to be mindful of when to roll out menu innovations.

“We know that beef futures spike during a certain period of time,” Rodriguez said. “That’s probably not the best time to be running pepperoni items.”

Making new products with core items can help avoid supply chain surprises. The bowls are made with toppings and sauces Papa Johns already has in stores. But even then, there can be challenges. Papa Bowls were set to launch about six months ago, but the company wasn’t able to get the packaging it needed.

The Papa Bowls are served in a bowl that slides out from a snug-fitting sleeve, which is delivered in a cardboard box similar to a pizza box. For Papa Johns, the right packaging is essential — if an item isn’t packaged correctly, it could show up cold. Customers hate that.

“Temperature is probably the number one thing that our consumer keys in on,” Rodriguez said. “We wanted to make sure that those are coming in piping hot.”

Papa Johns has rolled out other new items in the past year, including a limited-time pepperoni-stuffed crust pizza and a limited-time New York style pizza. Last year, it redesigned its logo and stores, dropping the apostrophe in Johns.