Company ProfilesFranchise PhilanthropyJuly/August 2023Previous Issues

Giving Back: Raising Dough for Charity

No matter how you slice it, Pizza Pizza’s social responsibility initiatives are a showcase of franchise success and community

By Daniel McIntosh

When you walk into any Pizza Pizza location near a school during lunchtime, you’ll likely find it buzzing with teen spirit, with the scent of delicious pizza wafting through the air.

As Adrian Fuoco knows, Pizza Pizza locations, especially near schools, become hubs of activity for young customers: They’re a place for an accessible lunch, a first job, or they just provide a safe, social location to blow off steam between classes.

For many brands, that environment can be challenging. “For us,” Fuoco says, “it’s our bread and butter, and we embrace it.” In his role as vice president of marketing for Pizza Pizza, Fuoco enhances relationships with existing customers like students, and raises money and awareness for Pizza Pizza’s social responsibility programming.

When it comes to the brand’s student-customers, one form of giving back comes in the form of a Merit Scholarship directed to underprivileged communities that provides resources for university educations.

Pizza Pizza connected with franchisees near 10 schools across Toronto and Mississauga, Ontario and partnered to provide scholarships. “The local franchise restaurant is connected to the schools, and they’re a partner in providing those,” says Fuoco. “The truth is those kids are great customers of ours. It’s a nice way for us to give something back to them.”

Besides presenting essential social spaces for students, Pizza Pizza makes an impact in shelters, hospitals, and health care centres. The company delivered pizzas, gift cards, and essential PPE supplies during the pandemic.

Everybody gets a piece of the pie

Pizza Pizza’s Slices for Smiles Foundation coordinates national campaigns, primarily supporting children’s hospitals across Canada. The foundation collects donations in two ways: first, by collecting change in coin boxes set up at the front desk of Pizza Pizza locations. In addition, a portion of sales of heart-shaped pizzas go to the foundation. In the decade since the foundation started, the brand has collected nearly $3 million. Incoming funds are distributed to local hospitals in key markets across the country.

Pizza Pizza also maintains franchisee-led social initiatives. “Most, if not all, of our locations are involved in community programs that are important to them, or important to their communities,” says Fuoco. So, the contributions vary, meeting the needs of different communities across the country.

“Oftentimes, we’ll have franchisees who are fairly reflective of their customers,” says Fuoco. “That community might be more involved in a particular activity, or a religious group, and the franchisee will support that.”

While the franchisee handles financing the donation, the head office team supports with logistics. “We give them a fair amount of freedom to choose something that they think makes sense for themselves and for the community, and they usually do a good job in that department.”

In terms of raising awareness for its major fundraising initiatives, Pizza Pizza doesn’t rely on its breadth of national advertising. Instead, most of the awareness comes from grassroots-level outreach.

Circular benefits

Company apps and websites may feature signage, and social media posts to inform followers of any updates, but the bulk of awareness comes from word-of-mouth interactions in restaurants “between the staff and customers, or between the franchisee and the community group they’re involved with,” notes Fuoco.

He says besides being a cost-effective method of promotion, this route also retains the intimacy of an everyday interaction with the brand. “Usually, when you walk into a restaurant, half the time the person you’re interacting with is the owner of the restaurant.” The discussion in the restaurant, or signage at community events, generates most of the visibility for the brand’s socially focused initiatives.

Whether fundraising for charity or serving slices for shelters, the added attention brings people back into restaurants. “If you’ve got a good connection with key players in your community… it can be just enough of an edge to get someone to come into your restaurant versus another,” says Fuoco.

Fuoco asserts that maintaining and further growing Pizza Pizza’s existing charitable efforts is central to the brand’s very existence: like students at lunchtime, community can be formed around a circle of dough, sauce, and cheese. A brand filling that space, like Pizza Pizza, needs to have a connection to the community. “Pizza Pizza is a community-based brand, that’s a big part of why we’ve been so successful, so if we’re not doing a good job giving back to the communities we serve, then we’re not being true to the brand.”