The Real Reason People Stopped Buying Cinnabon's Pizzabons

Once upon a time (because this story deserves a "once upon a time"), Cinnabon thought it was a good idea to go into pizza. This was not a step into the world of hot dough and melted cheese like Cinnabon's 2020 partnership with Pizza Hut was. (The one where, per Penn Live, you could get two pizzas, breadsticks, and Cinnabon cinnamon rolls all in the same, seductively named "Triple Treat Box.") Instead, this foray into pizza was an attempt at magic. It centered around the idea that a company, desired by its customers almost exclusively for the sweet and spicy smells of cinnamon wafting from its bakery's ovens, could make its name in an alien world: one ruled not by the sugary but by the savory.

For a hot second, it looked like Cinnabon might pull off the impossible. The 2012 test roll-out of its so-called "Pizzabons" at the Cumberland Mall in Atlanta, Georgia garnered national press. Even Time wrote a piece about the experiment, endearingly entitled: "Thinking Outside the Bon." Cinnabon spokesperson Rachel Hadley went so far as to tell the HuffPost that the Pizzabon was her favorite product going through the company's testing phase that year. When asked if the Pizzabon would go national, Hadley said, "We're hoping." This, however, is not a "once upon a time" with a happily ever after at the end. Cinnabon's Pizzabons were destined to fail as tragically as Burger King's bacon sundae and Taco Bell's seafood salad. You don't have to look far to find out why. 

Pizzabons had terrible toppings

The idea behind the Pizzabon was relatively simple. Keep Cinnabon's signature dough, but substitute its cinnamon, sugar, and frosting for tomato sauce, cheese, and pepperoni bits (via Serious Eats). As common sense, Chicagoans and New Yorkers will no doubt tell you — and no matter if deep-dish or New York-style is your thing — no pie is good without a decent sauce and cheese. Cinnabon's Pizzabon was not, however, a pizza. It was a hybrid. And to succeed in an already saturated market, the company would have had to master both Pizza Making 101 and to answer its customers' burning questions. To hand the mic to one confused Twitter user: "Why do we need more foods that taste like pizza? Is it that hard to get pizza?"

The Pizzabon fell tragically short on all accounts. When Serious Eats tried it, it cringed at the Pizzabon's "sprinkling of cheese in various stages of meltitude." For his part, Kotaku writer Mike Fahey lamented that "what little cheese that hadn't hardened into a scaly dairy shell was, at least bubbling." As for the sauce? Fahey's Pizzabon featured a "thin layer" in which he located a single, lonely, tomato seed. Atlanta Magazine didn't fare better. Its reviewer, Wyatt Williams, was relieved that, in person, the Pizzabon didn't look like Cinnabon's advert. (Williams, had been expecting "a radioactive Twinkie with melted plastic on top.") They were nonetheless disappointed to find out that the Pizzabon's cheese was cousin to "solidified grease," and wondered, sadly, if its tomato sauce deserved its namesake.

The tragic end to Cinnabon's Pizzabons

As far as we can tell, Pizzabons never made it out of their testing stage. Beyond evidence from the roll-out in Georgia, we've found no trace of Cinnabon's failed attempt at pizza since 2012. Apart from its questionable ingredients, there are other reasons the Pizzabon crashed and burned. For one, it cost, Serious Eats pointed out, $2.99 for a two and a half-inch culinary experience. For under that same price, you could buy a McDouble and call it a day (via McDonald's). For two, Grub Street, who predicted the Pizzabon's failure, observed that the company was directing marketing at the wrong demographic with its afternoon market test. Who was the perfect customer for Cinnabon's Pizzabon? "Stoners! Drunk people! Nocturnal wastrels! People who are ravenously hungry and not in their right minds at 1 a.m," the media platform shouted.

Bloomberg reports that some customers were curious enough to drive to Atlanta's Cumberland Mall to try them. But Pizzabons were never going to be the reason that anybody woke up in the morning and decided to stop at Cinnabon on their way to the office. As Cinnabon President Kat Cole said to CNBC in 2014, the Pizzabon was "probably not totally in line with the brand." She was okay with that though. "We learned a lot from it," Cole told the news platform, "and that was really more valuable than the product's success on its own."