The Time When McDonald’s Tried to Get Into the Pizza Business

August 8, 2023


McDonald’s is widely regarded as one of the world’s most successful fast food chains, but while the company has had many products that have been hits, such as the Quarter Pounder, Big Mac, Chicken McNuggets, and Egg McMuffin, it also had some duds. One of the company’s biggest product blunders came in the late 1980s when it tried to get in on the lucrative pizza market by making what became known as McDonald’s Pizza or McPizza.

McDonald’s began testing a pizza product in 1985 in ten stores to trial the feasibility of pizza being on the menu. Initially, the pizza wasn’t what it would become, the familiar round shape we all know. The McDonald’s pizza was made of melted cheese, ground beef, pepperoni, and tomato sauce, was wrapped in pizza dough similar to a calzone, and sold for 99 cents. The company named the product “McPizza.”

A 1980s ad for the McPizza. Dearbourne/Flickr

By 1989, McDonald’s had only tested the McPizza in a few markets across the country, and the company was on its third formulation, having pulled the previous two pizza recipes for refinement. This time, McDonald’s changed the pizza from a calzone-like creation to a round pizza called the McDonald’s Pizza.

As McDonald’s continued to test the product in 1990 in about 200 out of 8,400 stores, other fast food chains began to feel the pressure from McDonald’s entering the pizza market. The number two burger chain, Burger King, and the number two pizza chain at the time, Domino’s, agreed to sell Domino’s 6-inch pizzas in Burger King stores.

They called the new entity Pizzazz, and Domino’s would supply the ingredients and pizza ovens, and Burger King employees, who would be trained by Domino’s, would cook the pizzas. This concept was to last six months to a year. Though Burger King denied they were following the move by McDonald’s into the pizza market, it was clear that success by McDonald’s meant less of a share in hamburgers and pizza to everyone else.

McDonald’s was not only trying to muscle in on the market share of Pizza Hut and Domino’s, but it was also trying to establish a full dinner menu that met everyone’s taste. Pizza Hut and Domino’s didn’t wait for the experiment to gain hold and began to hit at the new McDonald’s Pizza in ad campaigns with slogans such as “McFrozen,” in reference to the use of frozen pizza dough prior to cooking, and that consumers should go to Pizza Hut and not make a “McStake” and go to McDonald’s for their pizza.

Mcdonalds pizza
An ad for McDonald’s Pizza, early 1990s. McDonald’s Fandom

Ultimately, the concern over McDonald’s taking over the pizza market waned, and the item never took hold across all the franchise locations, making it into only 500 restaurants. There were many reasons why the product failed. One was the price. The McPizzas ranged from $5.99 to $8.99, around $12 to $18 today. That was a lot for a pizza at a low-cost McDonald’s, and this price rivaled the cost at Pizza Hut or Domino’s.

The other problem arose from the time it took to cook the pizzas. In the initial testing, McDonald’s was able to make the calzone version within four minutes and ten seconds, but as the formulations changed, that time went up to 11 minutes and as much as 16 minutes. This was a considerable amount of time for a business known for its quickness and was a long wait for its customers who weren’t accustomed to such a thing. This length of time only increased the cost of making the pizzas.

Another problem was that the McDonald’s Pizza wasn’t being bought as a stand-alone item and was being tried as a curiosity. Consumers were still sticking to the tried and true popular McDonald’s menu items instead of making it the place to get their pizza.

By 1999, the McDonald’s Pizza had all but fizzled and was pulled from the menu of any McDonald’s store still selling it. But two McDonald’s locations, one in Ohio and one in West Virginia, kept selling the McPizza until 2017 when it was reported that the McDonald’s corporate office forced the two locations to take it off the menu for good. Only one remaining place still sells the McDonald’s Pizza, the largest McDonald’s in the United States in Orlando, Florida, which added the pizza to its menu in 2016.

Sources: Business Insider, Passionate in Marketing, Daily Meal, The Times-Tribune, The Province, The State

About the author 

Daniel Ganninger - The writer, editor, and chief lackey of Knowledge Stew, the author of the Knowledge Stew line of trivia books, and editor of Fact World and the Knowledge Stew sister site on Medium, our ad-free subscription sites. I hope you learn many new things here that add to your knowledge.

Follow the Stew