Starbucks marketing chief defects to Pizza Express

Pizza Express has appointed Helen Benedict to the new role of commercial marketing director. She joins the pizza chain from Starbucks, where she was vice-president of marketing for Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

Benedict will oversee the marketing for the chain’s 340 restaurants, which was taken over by private equity firms TDR and Capricorn last June. The investment companies also own chicken restaurant chain Nando’s and are completing the acquisition of pizza chain Ask and pizza and pasta chain Zizzi. It is not known if Benedict will also handle marketing for these chains.

She joined Starbucks coffee chain in 1999 as UK marketing chief from Colgate-Palmolive, where she was associate director of the category innovations centre and a former marketing manager for oral care. She was promoted to vice-president of marketing in 2001.

In the past, Pizza Express relied on the quality of its pizzas and restaurants to win over customers and did not apply traditional marketing. However, a downturn in sales in 2001 forced the chain to launch its first advertising campaign and to enter the take-home market through a deal with supermarket chain Sainsbury’s. Several bids were received for the chain, including one from former chairman Luke Johnson, but he could not match the $435m (&£278m) offered by TDR and Capricorn.

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