• The Cottage Inn Pizza logo.

The Cottage Inn Pizza logo. (Photo : Twitter)

U.S. gourmet restaurant Cottage Inn Pizza has announced plans for expansion into new locations in China in a bid to bite off a bigger slice of the Chinese market.

The Michigan-based pizza chain said it aims to compete with bigger rivals such as Pizza Hut and Papa John's in China through a more gourmet approach to its offerings.

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"Pizza Hut has perfected its craft. It's been in China for so long, it has established itself," Joseph Langenbacher, Cottage Inn Pizza director of product development, told China Daily.

"Where we come in is that in the U.S. we're more of a gourmet pizza chain that offers more of an upscale pizza product."

Cottage Inn, which currently has 56 locations across the United States, is looking to open 100 stores by the end of 2017 and 200 stores in the next 15 years. It opened its first Chinese outlet in Qingdao in eastern China's Shandong Province late last year.

Investors from China expressed interest in starting a pizza chain in the mainland, Langenbacher, which led to scouting for locations in selected Chinese cities.

The decision to build the Qingdao outlet was due to the city's established pizza culture and customer base, with many Pizza Hut and Papa John outlets already located in the city, he added.

"We wanted to have the same principles in China, so we really wanted to focus on the quality of product, whether it's the pizza or the expanded menu," he said.

Langenbacher said Cottage Inn would offer the same sit-in restaurant experience as its counterparts noting, that Chinese customers preferred going to a restaurant rather than eating pizzas at home.

"We feel like we have to offer the restaurant experience," he said. "It's more suitable to have an actual dining experience for the area. They enjoy taking their time with their family and dining."

The menu will also include food that caters to Chinese customers, including rice dishes and pizzas with ingredients familiar to the local palate such as shrimp and durian.

However, U.S.-style flavors like buffalo sauce were removed from the menu because local consumers didn't fancy them, Langenbacher said.