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Pizza News

Does It Matter If Wawa’s Pizza Isn’t Any Good?

The c-store’s pizza rollout is indicative of a larger trend that pizzeria owners should be wary of.

Wawa Pizza, a new venture from the behemoth convenience-store brand, rolled out in earnest over the summer. A July 2023 press release announced the brand now serves 14” and 16” pies, made to order, at more than 900 stores across the U.S. Customers can order pizza from a touchscreen and wait for their pie to be made. Prices start at $12.99 per pie.

Lately, the reviews have been pouring in, and food critics do not seem to care for Wawa Pizza. An Eater writer declared they’d “never eat another slice [of Wawa’s pizza] again.” An NJ.com critic professed, “Wawa, I love you, but your pizza is trash.” Those are brave words from somebody living in the Garden State—New Jerseyeans famously love Wawa, which holds a steady presence in their home state. They especially love Wawa’s hoagies, which have a cult-like following.

A third review of Wawa Pizza, written by a food critic with the Washington Post, wrote, “Wawa pizza tastes like cheese-topped cardboard. So why does it exist?” (It’s worth noting that a Philadelphia Inquirer story set out to determine just how bad Wawa’s pizza really is and found that there were some who thought the pizza was just fine.)

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The critic from the Post goes on to answer his own question: Wawa Pizza exists because pizza is a wildly popular food that’s relatively easy to prepare on the fly with some pre-made ingredients. Wawa Pizza is just another small part of convenience stores’ ongoing effort to be legitimate competition for quick-service restaurants, like pizzerias.

A social media post regarding Wawa Pizza.

When Wawa Pizza was rolling out, Mary-Rose Hannum, vice president of Fresh Food & Beverage for Wawa, confirmed the Post’s assumptions. “Pizza is one of the most beloved foods in America, so we couldn’t be more excited to make it a part of Wawa’s fast-casual-to-go offering and create a restaurant-like experience with our high-quality ingredients, great value and the convenience we’re known for,” Hannum said. “It’s officially a pizza night at Wawa!”

Convenience stores’ market share in the prepared foods space is increasing year-over-year. According to a survey of about 1,500 people conducted by Intouch Insight, 46% said they’d recently purchased prepared food from a convenience store. Perhaps more tellingly, the percentage of people who say they often purchase prepared foods from a convenience store rose from 20% in 2022 to 28% in 2023—a 40% increase in just a single year.

Pizzeria operators may think, “Yes, but Wawa’s pizza isn’t any good. Why is it a threat?” The reason is simple: Consumers don’t always choose a convenience store over a restaurant due to food quality. The same Intouch Insight survey found that 77% of respondents eat convenience-store food in their car. In other words, convenience—imagine that—really is the name of the game: If somebody is pumping gas or charging up the EV, wondering what they might eat for dinner, Wawa Pizza may sound better than hitting up the neighborhood pizza around the corner.

Wawa isn’t the first convenience store to launch a pizza program, and it won’t be the last. Hunt Brothers has long offered convenience-store brands a turnkey solution to serving pizza in house. Casey’s, based in Iowa, has 2,000-plus stores that are well known for selling a lot of pizza that many people think is quite good.

In other words, “Why does Wawa Pizza exist?” isn’t the question pizzeria operators should be asking themselves. “Does convenience-store pizza even need to be good in order to be a threat?” is a much more interesting question. The early results seem to indicate that the answer to that question is “no.”