The Battle Between Papa John's and Pizza Hut

Papa John's pizza box
Joe Raedle / Getty Images

Papa John's advertisements in the 1990s famously boasted, "Better ingredients. Better pizza. Papa John's."

After advertisements went so far as to compare Papa John's ingredients directly to those used by competitors, Pizza Hut filed a lawsuit in 1997 that led to about three years of litigation and not much more.

Pizza Hut is the second largest pizza chain in the U.S. with $5.5 billion in sales in 2018, according to research from Technomic, which tracks the restaurant industry. Papa John's ranks fourth with $2.7 billion in sales. Domino's leads the way with $6.5 billion in sales, and Little Caesars is third with $3.8 billion in sales.

The Birth of a Slogan...and a Battle.

Papa John's hired consulting firm Trout & Partners, which coined the disputed tagline in 1995. At the time, Papa John's had just a quarter of the stores that Pizza Hut had, so the focus was not on accessibility, but on quality. "Better Ingredients, Better Pizza" was a winner. 

But not with everyone. 

David Novak, President of Pizza Hut at that time, took issue with the phrase that led people to believe Papa John's used superior ingredients without providing proof. The war of words turned into an advertising battle with each company challenging the other. 

Papa John's vs. Pizza Hut

Pizza Hut ultimately filed a federal false advertising lawsuit against Papa John's. The claim stemmed from Papa John's famous slogan, coupled with a national advertising campaign. One of the ads stated that Papa John's "won big time" in taste tests over Pizza Hut. Other ads in the campaign alleged Papa John's sauce and dough were better than Pizza Hut's because they were made with fresh tomatoes and filtered water and did not include ingredients like “xanthan gum” and “hydrolyzed soy protein.” 

Pizza Hut's lawyers said they had scientific evidence proving that Papa John's ingredients didn't affect the pizza's taste. They argued that Papa John's ads violated federal law because they claimed, without evidence, that customers relied on the "better ingredients, better pizza" slogan on which to base their pizza-buying decision; thus, Papa John's ad campaign was deceptive in their eyes.

The Legal Decisions

Initially, a jury sided with Pizza Hut, agreeing that Papa John's claims of better sauce and dough were false or misleading. The judge ordered Papa John's to stop using the "better ingredients, better pizza" slogan and awarded Pizza Hut $467,619 in damages. This was a drop in the bucket for Pizza Hut, but the real prize was getting Papa John's to stop using the slogan. The judge told Papa John's to stop using any materials with that slogan, pull ads, and also pay Pizza Hut $12.5 million in damages. 

Papa Johns successfully appealed the verdict, arguing that the slogan was simply a matter of opinion, not to be taken as literal fact. They, as a company, believed they used better ingredients, resulting in better pizza. They argued their boasting was no different than Pizza Hut claiming it had "the best pizza under one roof."

The federal appeals court said the jurors were never asked if consumers relied on Papa John's "better" claims when deciding what pizza to buy. And so, in September 2000, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the verdict and ruled in favor of Papa John's. The company was allowed to use the slogan again and did not have to pay Pizza Hut any damages.