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Papa John’s made the first change to its original crust in nearly four decades

Papa John’s is slowly turning things around and perhaps a new crust will help.

The pizza chain is debuting a garlic Parmesan-flavored crust, its first new flavor option for its original dough in 35 years. The crust is baked with Parmesan-Romano cheese and is inspired by its popular garlic sauce.

The new flavor joins Papa John’s rarely changed lineup of crusts, which also includes an original, thin-crust and a gluten free option. Papa John’s crust selection lacks variety compared to its competitors. Pizza Hut and Domino’s both offer at least a half dozen different flavors.

The new crust is part of the brand’s annual investment of millions of dollars to in innovation, Paul Fabre, Papa John’s senior vice president of menu strategy and innovation, told CNN Business.

“Bringing new menu items to market is so exciting, especially as we continue to build on our legacy of quality ingredients our customers know and expect,” he said.

The company’s garlic sauce has always been a “fan favorite,” he said.

Creating a new item in conjunction with a recognizable flavor could help expand Papa John’s customer base.

For example, Pizza Hut announced that it’s testing Kellogg’s new line of plant-based protein, Incogmeato, at a Phoenix location. It also garnered viral success with the Stuffed Cheez-It Pizza, which is designed to look like an oversized Cheez-It cracker. Domino’s has thrown buzzy campaigns, including a new loyalty program that lets customers earn points even when they buy from their rivals.

The new Papa John’s crust is available Monday across the United States. For a limited time, it’s selling a one-topping pizza for $10 with the promo code “CHEESYCRUST” on its website or by phone.

Slice struggles

Sales at Papa John’s have struggled the past few years following the scandal surrounding founder and former CEO John Schnatter.

Schnatter was forced to resign in in 2017 after reports emerged that he used a racial epithet during a conference call. He also courted controversy by blaming poor sales on football players protesting the national anthem at a time when Papa John’s was the official pizza sponsor of the National Football League.

In February, activist investing firm Starboard Value took a $200 million stake in Papa John’s and pledged to turn things around. The company named Rob Lynch, formerly the president of Arby’s, to be its new CEO in August. It also has boosted its digital and delivery offerings.

Papa John’s is slowly turning around. Although same-store sales in the United States are still falling, the pace of the decline has slowed. The stock is up 50% for the year. It’s next earnings report is on Wednesday, November 6.

But investors might be nervous because of the mixed bag of earnings from Pizza Hut and Domino’s.

In early October, Domino’s reported revenue and profit that missed Wall Street’s forecasts and delivered a slightly disappointing new outlook. The company said it was also leaving four European countries after failing to make a profit.

Pizza Hut said in September sales at restaurants open at least a year rose in the last quarter and sales were up 10% overall compared to the year before. Its new partnership with the NFL, which replaced Papa John’s, helped boost its bottom line.

— CNN Business’ Paul R. La Monica contributed to this report.

Clarification: The story has been updated to clarify that the new crust flavor is Papa John’s first new option for its original dough in 35 years

CNN