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The Commerce City Pizza Crop Circle: A Sign That Extraterrestrials Love Pepperoni?

That crust is pretty chewy...
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Jared Jacang Maher's

August 2007 feature story

about Denver International Airport conspiracy theories revolved around a lot of


phenomena. But even the looniest loons -- make that "most knowing analysts" -- alluded to in the article didn't predict the appearance in Commerce City of a crop circle that bears a shocking resemblance to a Papa John's pizza. If you see 'za-loving Backbeat editor Dave Herrera streaking toward this particular piece of real estate at the speed of light, you'll know why.

Yeah, it's a promotion, as is made clear by the disturbingly detailed press release reproduced below. Still, give the company credit for putting in the time necessary to sculpt this farmland masterpiece -- reportedly 600 hours' worth over three weeks -- rather than simply hiring some computer savant to mock up a pictorial representation that'd look just as real to the Pixar generation.

But why here? Why now? And did the Democratic National Convention have anything to do with it? Sort of, and sort of not, says Tish Muldoon, director of public relations for Papa John's, who flew from the firm's Louisville, Kentucky headquarters to Colorado in order to give media hordes a high-flown view of the field courtesy of a lift that hoisted them eighty feet into the air. "I'm kind of terming it a nice blend of serendipity and strategy," she says.

"The wheat used in our 100 percent whole wheat pizza crust is grown in Colorado," Muldoon continues, "so we automatically wanted to get a field here with wheat that's ground for our pizza. We spoke with our friends at ConAgra, who actually mill the wheat flour for us, and they helped us locate the perfect field. And it turned out to be great timing, since it's wheat harvesting time in Colorado right now."

As a result, big wigs flying from far-flung locales to Denver for the DNC have a good chance of glimpsing a pie big enough to satisfy the largest appetite. But Muldoon hopes the image will prompt hunger pangs from locals as well as visitors. "We have 47 restaurants in Denver, and the next time they're going to order a pizza, we'd love for them to think of what they saw and give us a try," she says.

The display should be around until the first snow, and Muldoon promises that Papa John's minions will spruce it up periodically between now and then. And to deflect any suggestion that the company has a favorite in this year's presidential race, she emphasizes that the company is studiously nonpartisan -- and invites consumers of every political persuasion to give them a chomp. So does that mean the residents of Minneapolis-St. Paul, this year's site of the Republican National Convention, will be seeing something similarly bizarre crop up, as it were, between now and then? "You know, you never can tell," she teases.

The truth is out there -- but it seems a little undercooked. -- Michael Roberts

Out of This World! Papa John’s Unveils Six-Acre Crop Circle to Tout New 100% Whole-Wheat Pizza

600 hours and all-natural materials used to create design, visible to Denver International Airport-bound passengers and Democratic National Convention travelers

LOUISVILLE, Ky.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Now through Denver’s first snow fall, the thousands of passengers who daily fly in and out of Denver International Airport (DIA) will be treated to an out-of-this-world sight, just outside their window. There, in an unassuming wheat field of Commerce City, Colo., less than 30 miles from downtown Denver and a mile from DIA runways, Papa John’s (NASDAQ: PZZA) has crafted a six-acre crop circle promoting the company’s 100 percent whole-wheat pizza crust made with Ultragrain® flour.

A pizza topped with pepperonis (red mulch), green peppers (corn stalks), black olives (black mulch) and cheese (harvested wheat) is the focal point of the crop circle, complemented by a Papa John’s pizza box in the upper right-hand corner and the words “New 100% Whole Wheat Crust Pizza” in the lower-right. The entire design is set underneath the term “America’s Choice,” a nod to the country’s growing focus on the importance of whole grains and the upcoming Democratic National Convention in Denver later this month.

“We think the crop circle is a perfect visual for communicating Papa John’s use of 100% whole grains to make our new whole wheat crust pizza,” said Bill Van Epps, Papa John’s president, USA. “We’re very proud to be the first pizza company to offer a whole wheat crust pizza nationwide that combines great taste with the natural nutrition of whole grains. The benefits of whole grains are many, and we hope this sends a positive message to kids heading back to school, people flying in to Denver for the DNC and health-conscious consumers everywhere.”

Papa John’s – working with the Colorado Wheat Commission, the National Association of Wheat Growers, the Wheat Foods Council and ConAgra Mills®, which produces Ultragrain for the whole wheat pizza crust – enlisted well-known earthworks artist Stan Herd to create the all-natural masterpiece, requiring 600 hours of work to be completed in just over three weeks.

“This was an incredible opportunity for me to showcase the beauty of a Colorado wheat field through the style of art I enjoy creating most,” said Herd. “Fortunately, Papa John’s was willing to allow me to lead the design of the image, which was important to me. And after I got the opportunity to meet the folks involved, I knew this was going to be an amazing project.”

In 2001, when Papa John’s founder John Schnatter was testing and researching wheat to support the company’s “Better Ingredients. Better Pizza.” brand promise, he found a sweet, mild wheat in Colorado that worked well with the company’s fresh dough product. When the company developed its whole wheat crust earlier this year, Schnatter also turned to Colorado, this time for hard white wheat, milled into Ultragrain®, to find the perfect blend.

In May, Papa John’s became the first national pizza chain to add a 100 percent whole-wheat crust to its menu. As a way to celebrate the completion of the crop circle, Papa John’s will offer its whole-wheat crust pizza for just $8.88 when ordered online at www.papajohns.com on August 7-8.

Some quick facts about Papa John’s whole-wheat pizza:

-- One large slice of cheese pizza on the whole-wheat crust contains fewer calories; two-and-a-half times the fiber and less sodium when compared to one large slice of cheese on the original Papa John's pizza crust.

-- Containing 40 grams of whole grains per serving - more than 80 percent of an entire day's recommended whole grains intake - the Papa John's whole-wheat crust is delivered in a special pizza box featuring the official "100% Whole Grain Stamp(a)" from the Whole Grains Council.

-- According to the Council, 64 percent of Americans say they are trying to eat more whole grains. And for good reason. Studies have proven whole grains provide a range of health benefits, including lower risk of heart disease, diabetes and stroke.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends eating six servings of grains a day, three or more of which should be whole grains. However, the majority of Americans are still consuming only one serving of whole grains each day.

“Consumption is now starting to rise as Americans discover a wide range of new whole grain choices that are quick and delicious,” said Cynthia Harriman, director of food and nutrition strategies, Oldways/The Whole Grains Council. “Our 100% Whole Grain Stamp makes it easy to find products like the new Papa John’s whole-wheat crust, and to see at a glance the amount of whole grains they contain.”

Headquartered in Louisville, Kentucky, Papa John's International, Inc. (NASDAQ: PZZA) is the world's third largest pizza company. For nine years running, consumers have rated Papa John's No. 1 in customer satisfaction among all national pizza chains in the highly regarded American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI). Papa John's also ranks first among pizza companies in the 2008 Brand Keys Customer Loyalty Engagement Index and was named 2007 Pizza Today Chain of the Year. For more information about the company or to order pizza online, visit Papa John's at www.papajohns.com.

ConAgra Mills ® offers the most comprehensive selection of premium multi-use flours and whole grains in the industry – including Ultragrain®, the 100% natural whole wheat flour with the taste, texture and appearance most like white flour, Sustagrain®, and a new line of Ancient Grain flours, which are helping to meet growing consumer demand for healthier ingredients. For more information, please visit www.conagramills.com.

(a) The Whole Grains Council “100% Stamp” is used to recognize products that guarantee a full serving or more of whole grain and are made totally with whole grains. A “basic” Whole Grain Stamp is also available for products that may contain a mix of whole and refined grains, but that guarantee a minimum of a half-serving of whole grain.

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