Consumers are seeking C.H.O.I.C.E.

 
May 25, 2009 | by Liz Hertz
Consumers drive trends, following a road map that is dotted with local and global happenings, as well as individual responses to the environment. As an integral part of day-to-day living, food decisions and trends are liberally sprinkled along the route. To make sense from this potentially confusing pathway, the acronym C.H.O.I.C.E. captures many of the elements that are influencing consumers and ultimately driving trends for the pizza industry and pizza toppings.
 

C.H.O.I.C.E.

 

What Consumers Need & Think About

What Consumers Are Looking For

C

Convenience & simplicity

Quick meal and snack-time solutions

H

Health & wellness

Better-for-you foods, healthy aging for boomers and reduction in childhood obesity

O

Organic & natural

Good for me, good for the environment foods

I

Insecurities (economy, food scares & product recalls)

Reassurance and comfort

C

Customization & control

Opportunity to have it "their way"

E

Exciting & new flavors

Affordable indulgences and interesting flavor profiles that provide an escape

 
C.H.O.I.C.E. also describes an overall trend in and of itself -- the desire to have selection and control in a world where harried, worried consumers are looking for relevant options, exciting diversions and an emotional lift. As for the pizzeria, consumer trends are driving the demand for choice across the menu, to meet desire for alternatives that are better-for-you, better-for-the-environment; comforting, but not boring; new and different; customizable and convenient to order.
 
Better-for-you, better for the environment
 
Over the years, consumers have been on again, off again with their desire for healthier food options. Past experience would suggest that while consumers say that want to eat healthier, they don't change their habits. However, there are subtle differences in this latest "better-for-you" trend. Consumers are no longer collectively targeting one attribute of food, and instead are defining healthier by a variety of factors – fats, carbohydrates, whole grains, antioxidants and sustainability to name a few. Rather than simply looking for  "diet" or "low fat" menu options, today's health conscious consumer is looking for pizza topping options that support good nutritional principles, such as whole grain crusts, a variety of fresh vegetables and fruits, low-fat meats and poultry, as well as natural, organic or locally-sourced toppings. Given the choice, consumers interested in better-for- me options may order a pizza with lean beef or chicken strips, roasted vegetables and locally-made organic cheese on a whole wheat crust.
 
Comfort foods
 
At the same time, many consumers are looking to the restaurant menu for "twisted comfort" – comfort foods with an interesting twist. Comfort foods are loosely defined as those that are familiar, filling and reminiscent of foods from home. Many pizzerias appeal to this by creating updated versions of traditional favorites; such as Meat Lovers' Pizza with Andouille, Three-Mushroom Sausage Pizza, or Pepperoni Pizza with Asiago Cheese. Others create pizza versions of more main-stream comfort foods – Tater Tot Casserole Pizza, Pot Roast & Potatoes Pizza, or BBQ Beef Ribs or Chicken Pizza.
 
New and different flavors
 
Others expect the pizza menu to offer something totally new. Some of the trendiest cuisines - Mediterranean, Indian, Thai and Caribbean - can be found listed on the pizza menu as Greek, Tandoori Chicken, Thai Chicken, or Jerk Chicken Pizza. The addition of a few new toppings such as chorizo, andouille, gyro meat, hummus, roasted eggplant or black bean salsa creates the opportunity for a variety of interesting new combinations. Another toppings strategy is to start with a basic chicken strip and add interest with different seasonings or sauces. Beyond ethnic flavors, premium ingredients such as steak strips, sliced meatballs, prosciutto and specialty cheeses, can be transformed into new specialty pizza offerings, for example, Steak & Blue Cheese with Farmers' Market Tomatoes.
 
Customization
 
The trend toward customization on menus is a natural for pizzerias. This industry has been built on selecting the pizza size and a combination of ingredients. But trendy shops are taking this a step further by offering not only a choice of traditional toppings, but adding a selection of crusts, sauces and cheeses. The sense of customization can be enhanced by adding a few high impact toppings to the menu, such as chorizo or a spicy Italian sausage alternative. Regardless of the degree of choice that is offered, operators can emphasize this aspect of the pizzeria, by communicating to patrons that pizzas are made to order. For example, one section of the menu might be devoted to "Design Your Own," and order takers can reinforce the customization aspect by asking "how can we make your pizza for you tonight." These changes may be subtle, but together they can convey the message that the customer can truly have a customized product.
 
Ordering convenience
 
Pizzerias are giving consumers new choices not only in toppings, but also in how they order pizzas. The addition of electronic ordering via the Internet or texting adds convenience. It also helps to ensure accuracy and enables the customer to view current special offers before ordering.

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While the pathway to understanding consumers and pizza trends may at first seem convoluted, it's easy to remember the overarching message of choice. Consumers are responding to their environment with needs for or concerns about convenience, health, organic foods, insecurity of the economy and food systems, customization and exciting flavor profiles. Although somewhat unrelated, all of these concerns share a common theme for pizzerias – give the customer alternatives for what and how they order. In some cases this means bringing in new ingredients, such as chorizo, andouille, or artisan cheeses; and other times, this can be accomplished by creating new combinations of traditional ingredients.
 
At first it may seem overwhelming to keep up with food industry trends, a closer look reveals that pizzerias are in a very good position to respond to changes in the market. By updating the topping list, adding a few new specialty pizzas, and spreading the word about your offerings, pizzerias can create an on-trend menu, while retaining the traditional favorites. Regardless of the approach, drive up customer satisfaction by driving "choice" home.

Topics: Operations Management , Pizza Sauce , Pizza Toppings


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