Thanks to the promise of a New Year and the ambitions of resolution setters, January has long been an opportunity for restaurant operators to showcase healthier offerings. To jumpstart 2014, plenty of pizza concepts did just that.
Los Angeles-based Pizza Rev, for example, brought back its lower-calorie "PizzaRes-olution" pizza. Co-CEO Irv Zuckerman said the idea of this custom offering is to "keep the calories down by choosing fresh and flavorful options, like our homemade thin and crispy dough, our organic red sauce, our reduced-fat buffalo-milk mozzarella, and your favorites from our long list of fresh veggie toppings."
The PizzaRes-olution can be crafted for under 650 calories when guests select these specific options.
Patxi's Pizza also promoted its customizable healthier choices throughout January, including its whole wheat crust, low-fat mozzarella, lower fat meats such as roasted chicken, and more than 20 vegetable toppings. The concept has also shifted its marketing focus to its gluten-free, dairy-free and vegan options. All of Patxi's crusts are vegan, and Daiya Vegan Cheese is also available.
Pie Five Pizza kicked off New Year's by introducing the Skinny Pie at all locations nationwide. The Skinny Pie features all-natural chicken, a mozzarella and provolone cheese blend, red onion, red and green peppers, diced tomatoes, mushrooms and basil on an artisan thin crust and topped with marinara sauce. The entire pizza contains less than 500 calories, according to a news release.
"We already offer lots of healthy choices on our menu, including gluten-free and whole-grain crusts, signature salads and our Farmer's Market vegetarian pie, to name a few," Pie Five Pizza Chef Andy Whitman said in the release. "But we wanted to offer something extra special at this time of year for those determined to drop a few pounds."
Top That! Pizza is also shining a brighter spotlight on its PieLites line, which were first introduced in 2011. Co-founder Lori Walderich said the concept was one of the first to market lighter pizzas as a permanent menu item. Because of the demand, they were added permanently right away. This year will mark the first year the PieLites are available with a gluten-free crust.
The company also features a low-carb option and a custom-designed interactive pizza nutritional calculator online.
"There's a real demand out there for healthier restaurant fare and it seems people are starting to expect that their favorite restaurants will offer them," Walderich said. The PieLites make up about 20 percent of Top That's sales. January is a popular month for the option, as is the summer.
California's Fresh Brothers has always gone big when it comes to healthier options. The concept has been featured on numerous programs, including The Doctors, for its Fresh Kids Special, which features a pizza sauce mixed with a blend of five fresh vegetables ground into pieces. To mark the beginning of 2014, Fresh Brothers upped the ante a bit, rolling out three new vegan options — vegan tenders, vegan sausage and vegan ranch and blue cheese.
The news was met with much fanfare on Fresh Brothers' social media channels, including an acknowledgment that the company has "something for everyone!"
There were other menu highlights in January other than "healthier." For example:
Papa John's introduced a new Double Cheeseburger Pizza, featuring a savory combination of zesty burger sauce, beef, Roma tomatoes, dill pickles and 100-percent real cheese made from mozzarella.
Hunt Brothers added an Italian Meats pizza, with slices of Italian-style ham, salami, big pepperoni and 100-percent mozzarella cheese.
Pizza Hut debuted a new "lighter, airier" hand-tossed crust, with more varying textures than previous crusts, according to the company. Pizza Hut is also testing out pizza-by-the-slice in some markets.
Beyond the pie, California Pizza Kitchen toasted to the New Year with a partnership with George Clooney's Casamigos Tequila to launch an exclusive national cocktail program that includes a new seasonal cocktail.
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Alicia Kelso has been a professional journalist for 15 years. Her work with QSRweb.com and PizzaMarketplace.com has been featured in publications around the world, including Good Morning America, Voice of Russia radio, Consumerist.com and Franchise Asia magazine.