Americans love their pizza: Three quarters of U.S. consumers eat pizza at least twice a month, according to Technomic’s 2014 “Pizza Consumer Trend Report.”
That’s no wonder, really—few other menu choices hold pizza’s power to please a table of vegetarians, carnivores, traditionalists, the “culinarily adventurous”—and young and old alike. But, how (and where) Americans are consuming pizza is evolving, and Technomic also detects subtle shifts in consumers’ pizza topping and preparation preferences.
One of the most notable developments for pizza in the past year has been the emergence of the fast-casual pizza segment. More than half of consumers (55%) polled for the “Pizza Consumer Trend Report” said they purchase fast-casual pizza at least monthly—an impressive figure that points to how quickly this fast growing segment is finding relevance with consumers.
The concept of build-your-own options sharing menu space with signature creations isn’t new for the pizza category—it’s a hallmark of the menu segment for both quick-serve and full-service players. Yet it is new to offer single-serve, made-to-order pies in just one to six minutes.
Fast-casual’s rising pizza players, including Blaze Pizza, Pie Five Pizza and MOD Pizza, place the focus on high-quality ingredients, and eminent convenience and flexibility for the customer—traits that consumers indicate they crave in their pizza purchases. In so doing, they’re raising the profile of thinner, lighter Neapolitan-style pizza crusts and beyond-the-basics toppings choices, such as pesto, salami, gorgonzola and rosemary. They’re also making made-to-order pizza a more viable lunch option for on-the-go diners.
Consumers’ evolving pizza interests and preferences track with fast-casual’s pizza offerings and have important implications for foodservice operators and manufacturers alike. Here is a look at what consumers want, when it comes to pizza:
Convenience. Carry-out is tops with consumers for pizza purchases, beating dine-in, delivery, take-and-bake and frozen. And, perhaps unsurprisingly, pizza consumption is highest among consumers ages 18-34. Pizza purveyors can seize upon consumers’ desire for convenient pizza options by offering pizza by the slice and portable pizza snacks—two items in which younger consumers, in particular, express an interest.
Indulgence. Are Americans content to let a treat be a treat? Maybe. Just one third of consumers—down from 40% in 2012—say they want more pizza establishments to offer more healthful pizzas. That said, interest in gluten-free options and choices to accommodate those with food allergies and other dietary needs is likely to remain strong.
More choices. Nearly three quarters of consumers (74%, up from 70% in 2012) say a wide variety of toppings is important. And, while there’s strong interest in classic pizza builds—almost half of consumers say that one or two toppings are enough—consumers also are exploring newer specialty sauces and out-of-the-ordinary cheeses, proteins and vegetables.
Quality. More than two in five American consumers (43%) say they patronize their preferred pizza concept because it uses fresh, high-quality ingredients. Preparation style is important: 45% say brick-oven pizza tastes better than pizza cooked in an electric oven, and 77% say crust texture is highly important.