The Evolving Pizza Landscape

Pizza is undoubtedly one of America’s favorite foods, with the pizza category representing a significant proportion of limited-service sales and bested only by the burger category. Technomic’s 2014 Pizza Consumer Trend Report finds that 75 percent of consumers eat pizza twice a month or more often, and consumers report an average of 3.4 pizza occasions per month.

Although consumption is high, it seems to have decreased just slightly over the past two years, likely peaking post-recession due to pizza’s ability to satisfy cravings and meet needs for value. Pizza will surely maintain its prominent place in the foodservice industry; however, evolution is underway, as the fast-casual pizza segment gains momentum and pushes pizza players to focus on innovative, high-quality pizzas served in a more upscale environment.

What is Fast-Casual Pizza?
With full-service casual-dining traffic contracting as consumers flock to limited-service formats, pizza operators have found themselves in a prime position to carve out a new and emerging niche in fast casual restaurants. In fact, 55 percent of consumers report visiting fast-casual pizza concepts at least monthly. This proportion may be inflated, however, considering this is a new category lacking clear definition among many consumers.

Customization, speed of service and an affordable price point are the core attributes of the newest fast-casual pizza concepts. Made-to-order preparations, a wide variety of ingredients and artisanal quality typify the menu. Regional development deals will increasingly spur growth of the category, strengthening brand visibility of fast-casual pizza chains in new markets.

Major restaurant brands, such as Chipotle and California Pizza Kitchen, are even getting in on the action, applying customization formats, contemporary interior designs and high-quality ingredients to new fast-casual pizza joints and test concepts.

A Changing Pizza Category
The fast-casual pizza trend marks a move away from delivery and discounting, two pillars that limited-service pizza chains rely upon. Both of these factors are still highly important to consumers, but leading traditional pizza players are also focusing on value and revamping their menus and concepts to align more closely with the fast-casual pizza experience.

This will help traditional pizza players stay relevant, since data reveals that several strengths among fast-casual pizza concepts are of high importance to the pizza occasion. Diners are placing increasing emphasis on pizza variety; 74 percent of consumers (up from 70 percent in 2012) say that a wide variety of topping options is important for creating a good pizza. But variety is nothing without quality; 43 percent of consumers patronize their preferred pizza concept because it uses high-quality, fresh ingredients, and 84 percent say fresh toppings are important in creating a good pizza.

Please indicate how important or unimportant the following factors are in creating a good pizza.
(Top two box = important and extremely important)

Base: Approximately 1,100 consumers aged 18+ Respondents indicated their opinion on a scale from 1–6 where 1 = not important at all and 6 = extremely important
Source: Technomic, Inc., The Pizza Consumer Trend Report (2014)

To meet these consumer demands, limited-service pizza chains are putting more emphasis on pizza quality through hand-tossed, artisan preparations and differentiated crust offerings. Underscoring this point, consumers note that preparation style strongly impacts their taste quality perceptions; 45 percent say that brick-oven pizza tastes better than pizza cooked in an electric oven, and more than a quarter agree that wood-fired pizza tastes better (32 percent) and is higher quality (26 percent) than electric-oven pizza. Fast-casual pizzas are often cooked in hearth-style ovens that tend to be the centerpiece of a restaurant’s design, giving these concepts another leg up in terms of quality.

Thinking only about pizza purchased at restaurants or other foodservice operations,
please indicate how much you agree or disagree. (Top two box = agree and agree completely)

Base: Approximately 600 consumers aged 18+ Respondents indicated their opinion on a scale from 1–6 where 1 = disagree completely and 6 = agree completely
Source: Technomic, Inc., The Pizza Consumer Trend Report (2014)

Navigating New Territory
Although the pizza landscape is changing, operators can take comfort in the fact that pizza occasions are still driven by the things they do best—satisfying cravings, affordability and convenience. In fact, being in the mood for pizza, reasonable prices and the lack of time or energy to cook are the top three drivers of consumers’ most recent pizza occasion. Finding a balance between meeting consumers’ needs for convenience and affordability while also offering a variety of high-quality, premium menu items will be key to staying successful as the pizza landscape evolves.


Deanna Jordan

Deanna Jordan is Manager of Consumer Insights at Technomic Inc. in Chicago. She works on the firm’s Consumer Trend Reports, a series of annual studies that provides operators and suppliers with a comprehensive guide to the menu and consumer trends impacting various restaurant segments and menu categories in the U.S., Canada and U.K. She also contributes to the Consumer Food Trends newsletter, which explores the latest in foodservice and consumer trends.

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