It’s Friday night: who wants to cook? Not many of us, apparently. Pizza night is a weekly tradition for two-thirds of consumers, and unlike most foods, pizza is primarily sourced away from home instead of purchased at retail or made from scratch. Regardless of whether consumers reach for their phones or fire up the oven, the usual suspects typically hold court: pepperoni, mozzarella cheese, and marinara sauce. However, more upscale ingredients are finding their way onto pizza crusts as well, and a sizeable number of consumers appear ready to pay more for them, according to Datassential’s Pizza Power Keynote Report. 

Pizza itself is America’s best-loved foods, according to Datassential’s Flavor database, which tracks familiarity and affinity of foods and ingredients. Nearly 70% of consumers love pizza, ranking it above even burgers and French fries. 

At home, consumers are most likely to turn to frozen pizza: 56% have popped one in the oven within the past month. Some of those are likely to be upscale styles as manufacturers have expanded their product lines to cater to increasingly sophisticated tastes (and create a compelling alternative to restaurant pizza.) Hand-tossed crusts, toppings like spinach and artichoke, and even globally-inspired varieties like Thai or Mexican are available not only in the frozen aisle but also as take-and-bake or as meal kits. 

But how do consumers typically order pizza away from home? An online pizza-ordering simulator gave Datassential a window into the ways that consumers select and order this weekly favorite. 

Most people ordering pizza in the simulated experience ordered the top menued and best-loved pizza toppings: pepperoni and/or sausage, and mushrooms, black olives, and mushrooms. This combination aligns well with consumers’ love for pizza varieties and ingredients. It is worth noting, however, that significant differences emerged among various demographic groups when sorted by gender, by age, and even by geographic region. 
Men are more likely to choose thin crust, but pile on the hearty proteins like sausage and pork belly, while women may opt for a stuffed crust but then select lighter ingredients such as basil pesto, grilled chicken, or spinach. Millennials are more likely to upgrade their pies, from premium crusts to organic marinara and upscale toppings like prosciutto and pickled veggies. By region, consumers in the pizza-proud Midwest and Northeast choose more premium ingredients overall, including sauces like white garlic parmesan and proteins such as grilled pork.

Those preferences are likely being influenced by some of the trends emerging on pizza menus, from varieties popular in certain parts of the country to non-traditional yet pizza-friendly ingredients like pork belly (up more than 300% on menus in the past four years) and brussels sprouts (up 160%.)

Even when those premium ingredients are offered at a higher price point or with an upcharge, they appeal to a solid core of consumers. At least one-third of consumers using the online ordering simulator opted to upgrade their crust, cheese, or topping, regardless of whether they had to pay extra.

Originally appeared in the October, 2018 issue of Prepared Foods as Pizza Power.