Reported pizza consumption took a hit several years ago, but Technomic’s “2016 Pizza Consumer Trend Report” shows that consumers once again are enjoying this American favorite.
Technomic expects this trend to continue and forecasts the pizza space to become increasingly crowded, as fast-casual players and retailers up their game with premium ingredients, health-focused options and innovative flavors. As competition ramps up, menu innovation, especially in the areas of quality and uniqueness, will be key for capturing occasions.
Consumers increasingly correlate healthfulness with natural, clean ingredients—a trend that has spread to pizza. More than half of consumers (58%) say they would like foodservice locations to offer all-natural pizza. Limited-service pizza chains are increasing efforts to meet demands for transparency and food with fewer artificial ingredients.
Late last year, Blaze Pizza removed nitrites from its pepperoni, salami, ham and bacon. This year, the chain aims to remove all additives from its olives, salad dressings and blood orange lemonade, so all of its pizza and salad ingredients are additive-free. Papa John’s removed artificial flavors and colors from its menu and announced plans to use antibiotic-free chicken in toppings and its Chicken Poppers by summer 2016.
Some chains also are taking steps to cater to special diets. Younger consumers are leading the charge for gluten-free options, as 37% would like these items offered more often. Jet’s Pizza recently launched a gluten-free crust, joining Papa Murphy’s and Pizza Hut, which began offering gluten-free pizza at certain sites last year.
Vegan cheese options are one area of opportunity for limited-service pizza chains, but particularly in quick service. While several fast-casual chains—including Pieology Pizzeria, PizzaRev and Pizza Studio— offer vegan cheese, it’s available at fewer than 10% of QSR pizza chains, according to Technomic’s MenuMonitor.
Beyond ingredient sourcing, pizza chains are introducing spicy flavors, with fast-casual and quick-service chains leading the charge for flavor innovation. Spicy sauces have emerged at chains like fast-casual brand Pieology Pizzeria. In May, the concept chain debuted two spicy pizzas: a Spicy Southwest variety, featuring red enchilada sauce and jalapenos; and a Chicken Chile Verde option topped with green enchilada sauce and green chilis chiles.
In the future, expect to see hot seasonings, such as Cajun, and condiments like giardiniera—along with drizzles, such as sriracha, harissa and a variety of other hot sauces.
Interest in themed or regional pizzas, such as pizza served as brunch or Philadelphia cheesesteak pizza, has grown among consumers, from 25% in 2014 to 31% in 2016. This might relate to the growing demand for ethnic foods and local flavors.
Ethnic-inspired pizzas have gained ground on menus, evolving from the standard taco pizza into Mexican pizzas with chipotle or chorizo, along with Thai- and Caribbean-themed pizzas, such as Toppers Pizza’s Jamaican Jerk Chicken pizza.
With the uptick in pizza consumption expected to continue, many opportunities exist to offer consumers high-quality ingredients and innovative flavors in this increasingly competitive space.
Darren Tristano is president of Technomic Inc., a Chicago-based foodservice consultancy and research firm owned by Winsight. Since 1993, he has led the development of Technomic’s Information Services division and directed multiple aspects of the firm’s operations. For more information on Technomic’s “2016 Pizza Consumer Trend Report,” visit www.technomic.com.