The United States is the largest pizza market in the entire world, gobbling up $46.24 billion out of $145 billion in total worldwide sales in 2020.
This demand is only growing, with over 15% more American consumers eating pizza every week than two years prior.
Most people tend to associate pizza with large brands such as Domino’s and Papa John’s.
However, chain pizzerias and independent ones actually share a pretty even split of the pie, with each type of business holding 59% and 41% of the market share, respectively.
In fact, independent pizzerias actually opened more total stores in 2020, while chain stores showed a small net loss.
Still, if you’re an investor or market analyst, you should probably focus most of your attention on the chain store side of the industry, as they’re the primary force in setting trends and influencing where the market is headed.
The ten largest pizza chains in the United States in 2020 by gross sales were:
The 10 Largest American Pizza Chains: A Closer Look
Gross annual sales: $17.8 billion
Domino’s is the largest pizza chain in the world in terms of revenue and second in terms of stores opened.
It has over 15,900 stores across 85 different countries.
Domino’s was one of the first to pioneer the concept of fast pizza delivery with its iconic “30 minutes or less” promise.
Nowadays, their standard has become an industry-wide expectation that every pizza chain must meet if they even hope to compete.
What’s interesting is that most of Domino’s revenue doesn’t actually come from direct pizza sales, but from selling ingredients such as dough and toppings to its franchisees and other chains.
The ingredient-selling side of their business makes up 81% of their total revenue.
Pizza Hut. Headquarters: Piano, Texas
Gross annual sales: $13 billion
Pizza Hut, along with Domino’s, dominates over half of the entire United States pizza market.
Borrowing $600 from their mother, the brother founded their first Pizza Hut and offered free pizza on opening night.
Their single store has since expanded into 18,703 stores, making it the most prolific pizza chain in the world.
The company separates itself from its main competitor, Domino’s, by focusing on affordability and novelty.
More frequently than any other chain, Pizza Hut tries to develop and market new novelty pizza concepts such as pan pizza and stuffed crust to keep them fresh and relevant in the minds of consumers.
Gross annual sales: $4 billion
You might be surprised to learn that “Little Caesars” didn’t actually originally refer to the Roman rulers, but rather to co-founder Marian Ilitch’s pet name for her husband.
Little Caesars’ competitive edge has long been the affordability of its pizzas and the speed of delivery.
By focusing on less fancy ingredients and smaller stores with lower overhead, the chain is able to offer pizzas of similar sizes at half or even less the price of other stores.
There’s a good reason why if you see college students carrying around pizza, it’s usually Little Caesars.
The iconic catchphrase “Pizza! Pizza!” itself originally a promotion for the chain’s “two pizzas for the price of one” deal in 1979.
Gross annual sales: $3 billion
It’s ironic that despite pizza’s origins in Italy, Marco’s Pizza is the only chain that attempts to associate their product with the country.
The restaurant commands a niche, but large fan following.
This is due to its founder, Pasquale Giammarco, an Italian immigrant with culinary training and endless passion for pizza.
Marco’s Pizza separates itself from the pack by trying to remain authentic to Italian-style pizza.
This element plays a large part in all their marketing efforts, with the vice president of purchasing stating, “We are the only chain of any size that was founded by someone who was born and raised in Italy.”
Marco’s Pizza also makes sure to always serve ingredients that are freshly chopped right at the store, rather than simply being frozen and bulk-packaged.
Gross annual sales: $2.1 billion
Papa John’s Pizza was founded in 1984, much later than most of the other pizza chain giants.
However, this hasn’t stopped them quickly grabbing a large fan base and expanding across the country, reaching 5,199 stores as of early 2021.
This was largely due to the fact that they were the first to offer online ordering, capturing every consumer that wanted a pizza but didn’t want to call in or physically visit a store.
Papa John’s was also one of the first chains to focus on the growing consumer trend towards fresh, green ingredients.
While many of its competitors’ slogans highlight their affordability or delivery speed, Papa John’s has used “Better Ingredients. Better Pizza” to focus on their freshness.
In recent years, the chain has somewhat waned in market share. This is partly due to certain business decisions, but also to numerous and constant controversies surrounding their founder.
Papa John’s seems to be the most popular among the large pizza chains in states that prefer local brands.
Gross annual sales: $912.9 million
Chuck E. Cheese’s is mostly known for providing venus filled with video games and activities to children’s birthday parties.
However, with how much kids love eating pizza, it’s not surprising that this company has made it into this list, despite that not evening being the main part of its business.
Because they already set up the logistics to ship ingredients and make pizza, Chuck E Cheese created Peter Piper Pizza to market that pizza to adults and sell even more.
This side of their business has been tremendously important during the coronavirus pandemic.
Because so many families are avoiding events with large groups, Peter Piper Pizza has been generating most of the company’s revenue during 2020.
Gross annual sales: $827 million
The name of Papa Murphy’s game is to provide the freshest possible pizza experience for consumers.
The chain was the first, and still one of the only, to use the “take-and-bake” concept.
Rather than ordering and picking up an already cooked pizza, customers receive an uncooked pizza to take home and bake themselves.
This reduces the time between when the pizza is fresh out of the oven and when customers can take the first, delicious bite.
Papa Murphy’s Pizza commits so hard to its unique take-and-bake concept that their stores don’t even have freezers or ovens.
The chain is actually the most popular pizza store in some states, such as Oregon.
California Pizza Kitchen. Headquarters: Playa Vista, California
Gross annual sales: $802.6 million
California Pizza Kitchen exploded onto the scene by popularizing unique concepts such as BBQ and Thai chicken pizzas.
Although their gross revenue falls far below that of the top four pizza giants, the chain commands a loyal following that can’t get enough of their novelty flavors.
California Pizza Kitchen is also different in that they offer their food in a restaurant setting, rather than as the traditional order and carryout store.
They also focus much more on manufacturing frozen pizzas to be sold at grocery stores, when compared with most other pizza chains.
Gross annual sales: $185 million (domestic, excl. Canada)
If you’ve ever visited a large mall in the last few decades, you’ve probably come across a Sbarro.
The chain originally started when Carmela and Gennaro ran an Italian salumeria. Their pizzas were so popular that it prompted them to create a new restaurant just to focus solely on the product.
Once the Sbarro brand built some fans, the company expanded by focusing on shopping malls in order to avoid direct competition with pizza giants such as Domino’s and Pizza Hut.
However, this strategic method of expansion may also lead to the pizza chain’s downfall in the coming years.
Even after the coronavirus pandemic is over, the declining trend in shopping mall visitors won’t help a pizza chain that mainly relies on them for business.
Gross annual sales: $80 million
Cici’s Pizza is similar to Chuck E Cheese’s in that they combine pizza with play.
Along with a pizza bar, each Cici’s Pizza comes with arcade rooms and other activities that allow customers to eat and enjoy a fun and casual atmosphere.
Although the chain focuses on providing fun experiences to adults and entire families rather than just kids, they do offer many programs for children.
For example, Cici’s has a “Lunch Learn” field trip program that uses pizza-making as a fun tool to teach kids simple math concepts such as division and multiplication.
Unfortunately, the chain reported bankruptcy in early 2021 due to the toll on its business created by the coronavirus pandemic.
It’s yet to be seen whether they’ll be able to survive and remain on this list.