Aug. 2, 2009
While tomato may be the first thing to come to mind when thinking about pizza sauce, it's not the only thing. These days, pizza sauce can mean anything from olive oil to ranch dressing.
According to the 2009 Pizza Industry Study, the number of pizzeria menus offering sauces other than the traditional tomato is on the rise, with barbecue, garlic butter and Alfredo topping the list of alternative sauces. More than 60 percent of operators reported serving a barbecue-flavored sauce, up 20 percent compared with the 2007 study. Twice as many operators reported serving Alfredo or garlic-butter sauces compared with two years ago.
Bud Boswell, corporate executive chef and director of product development for Pizza Inn, attributes the explosion of sauce choices to a number of factors, including customers' TV viewing habits.
"It is the Food Network, first and foremost," he said. "Everybody watches the Food Network and they are seeing all these different things."
Along with pizzas featuring Alfredo sauce or barbecue, popular creations at Pizza Inn include a Buffalo Chicken pizza, featuring a ranch dressing sauce topped with chicken, hot sauce and mozzarella cheese, and a Bacon Cheeseburger pizza featuring yellow mustard as a sauce. The company plans to introduce a pulled pork pizza that uses Ken's Cannonball BBQ Sauce as a base.
Much of the trend is also driven by the overall cultural blending of the American population, Boswell said. Asian-related sauces, such as a Kung Pao sauce or a sweet chili garlic sauce as a base, are becoming very popular in the pizza industry
"Being in Texas, we see a lot of Hispanic influence in the sauces, whether it is chili or enchilada-style sauce or a mole sauce," he said. "I am working with an enchilada sauce and doing things, with the typical beef and chicken enchilada, but I am also playing with a chili cheese dog pizza and using sliced hot dogs on an enchilada sauce base."
Also driving the trend is a desire on the part of chefs to get back to the basics. Even the traditional tomato-based pizza sauce is getting a makeover as chefs delve into artisan-style pizza.
"It used to be that pizza sauce was pretty straightforward. Now, what we are seeing is a trend towards pieces of tomato in the sauce," said Glen Morelli, senior manager, field sales with Escalon Premier Brands, a provider of fresh-packed tomato products. "When it comes to sauce, there are no rules, so you see everything all over the board."
Some hidden benefits
Even if specialty sauces don't result in permanent menu additions, they offer a wealth of limited-time-offer possibilities, operators say.
"The Pizza Inn customer is more traditional, so for the long term we don't see these as something for our brand," Boswell said "But from a variety standpoint, they work very well for the short term."
The pizza business has changed considerably over the years, with a shift from being street food to being a complete meal, said Pompilio "John" Sambogna, who operates Pompilio's Pizza in Westwood, N.J. Sambogna's sauces include pesto, Alfredo and scampi.
"To give customers variety, you have to give them different types of sauces," he said.
Chris Chiapparelli, who operates Chip's Pizza in Forest Hills, Md., is seeing non-traditional sauces edge out tomato-based sauces on parts of his menu.
"In fact, more than half of our specialty pizzas have non-traditional sauces," he said. "Some of our most popular are pesto sauce on our Primavera Pizza, Caesar dressing on our Chicken Caesar Pizza, bruschetta sauce on our Margarita Pizza and Buffalo and blue cheese sauces on our Buffalo Chicken Pizza."
Serving non-traditional pizza sauces comes with benefits besides happy customers, Sambogna said.
"What happens is we are able to get more for that slice of pizza because it is a meal now," he said. "Anything that you can have as an entrÃ©e will now go on a pizza. The only thing missing from that slice of pizza is dessert, and we make a dessert pizza too."