Pizza experts share crystal ball predictions for 2014

Now that the year-end assessments are over, there is just one thing left to do before we ring in the New Year: Place our bets on the next big thing.

A handful of pizza execs took a look at their crystal balls and shared what they think will be the biggest trends in the segment in 2014. Here are their predictions.

Menu trend forecast

"I see the continued evolution of unique and flavorful, healthy offerings. Items such as quinoa and couscous have an exotic appeal and are being used to add healthier nutrients to our diet. I also see the proliferation of more made-to-order, fresh offerings in every category. Things like made-to-order sandwiches, pizzas and salads have a great appeal to the current 'choice-centric' consumer mindset." – Cody Pierce, VP of Marketing, Pizza Ranch.

"There will be more heat. Customers in 2013 started requesting more heat, and the trend of spicy food will continue. Now that people have embraced Sriracha, we'll see them more adventurous for heat with international spices." – Scott Svenson, co-founder and CEO of MOD Pizza.

"Upscale and artisan offerings balanced with indulgent comfort food toppings give people an opportunity to expand their palate while maintaining the traditional flavors that make them feel good. Ethnic flavors are also crashing onto the scene. America has become so ethnically diverse that it's becoming imperative to be able to serve our guests a slice of home. Also, craft beers are king. What says 'America' better than pizza and beer?" – Marla Topliff, president, Rosati's Pizza.

"Our customers are asking for more options like vegan salad dressing and additional vegan pizza toppings. We'll be offering additional healthy menu items in 2014 because of this." – Adam Goldberg, co-founder, Fresh Brothers Pizza.

"We will see more value options, more customization and more all-natural ingredients." – Lori Walderich, co-founder, Top That! Pizza.

"Gluten-free and alternative options will continue to expand as more concepts adopt them. But more importantly, restaurants are getting better. Restaurateurs will continue to innovate and improve on the execution of their concepts. The quality of offerings across the board will improve and more money will chase new concepts with the right metrics." – Bill Freeman, CEO, Patxi's Pizza.

"There's been a huge push for pairing craft beers with food served leading into the New Year. I also think you'll be tasting a lot more candied bacon in various forms." – Drew French, founder, Your Pie.

"Flavor innovation and customization are definitely going to be on trend. Customers crave more unique pizza flavors, and are interested in trying something new, like an Asian or Buffalo pizza. Customers want to be able to say 'This is my pizza,' they whey order. They are looking for a unique and personalized experience. Pizza is great because different toppings allow it to be highly customizable." – Steven Jackson, president and CEO, Hungry Howie's Pizza.

Off the menu

"Right now, the answer is mobile due to the ease of use and versatility for the customer. Consumers want their whole service experience to be completed via mobile. For brands, the mobile platform allows us to speak to our audience quickly, in a space they live and play in." – Scott Iversen, VP of Marketing, Toppers Pizza.

"We'll see more mobile apps, mobile-enabled websites and more emphasis on in-store customer experiences and personal attention." – Lori Walderich, co-founder, Top That! Pizza.

"Delivery business will continue to grow as people have less time to plan and cook. Time is scarce for customers and restaurants continue to step up their game in terms of fast, affordable and reliable delivery." – Bill Freeman, CEO, Patxi's Pizza.

"You're going to see a lot more people paying for their meal with their smartphones. Everything is going mobile, and a lot of QSRs are going to jump on board." – Drew French, founder, Your Pie.

"Mobile ordering and table top tablet ordering. Tablets will never replace personal service, but people like to play with the toys. Pizza pubs are on the rise; we alone have opened four last month. People like a mid-price-point place to take the family or hang with friends in a comfortable, fun atmosphere. Catering not treated like an extension of day-to-day business, but as an enhancement to build business, is also on the rise. Finally, value perception as opposed to price gouging as a marketing strategy." – Marla Topliff, president, Rosati's Pizza.

"We'll see more kitchen theater. Previously, the pizza industry hid the cooking process from the customer, but now we're seeing more elements coming front of house. Customers are more engaged and interested in the process of cooking; they want to be part of the decision-making process and they want to watch their pizzas being made." – Scott Svenson, co-founder and CEO of MOD Pizza.

"Online ordering is a big non-menu trend and we'll see an even bigger move to online ordering, as witnessed by the competitive set." – Steven Jackson, president/CEO, Hungry Howie's Pizza.

"QSRs are really pushing customers to mobile ordering from their digital devices. It's a win-win. Customers can place their order exactly the way they want to without making a call, getting put on hold, etc. For restaurants, it removes a step out of the process and gets the customers' order directly into the make line in the kitchen in a more efficient way." – Adam Goldberg, co-founder, Fresh Brothers Pizza.

"We will see an increase in delivery, carry out and grab-and-go-type items to fit our hectic lifestyles, and play directly to our need for convenience for a large part of our meals." – Cody Pierce, VP of Marketing, Pizza Ranch.

Read more about trends and statistics.

Photo provided by Flickr user Jlhopgood.

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