Thicker crusts, more veggies and a push toward non-tomato-based sauces are just a few trends that are taking over the pizza industry this year.
To explore those trends and more, Pizza Marketplace chatted with Rapid Fired CEO Ray Wiley and Gregory Casale, senior director of culinary Innovation, Chuck E. Cheese
Q: What's happening in doughs in the year ahead and what are customers saying they want?
Casale: Except for an ever-present, albeit small demand for gluten-free dough, I think most guests equate "dough" with "crust type." In that regard, I see a growing desire for thicker, soft chew crusts like pan crusts and I see the thicker crust trend manifesting itself in the growing popularity of Detroit Style pizza. And although I don't think it will ever be more popular than traditional crusts or thin and crispy crusts like we have at Chuck E. Cheese's, I do see that space growing.
And while not new, softer chew crusts also include products like stuffed crusts. Over the past year, Chuck E. Cheese's has seen a huge increase in sales of our Stuffed Crust Pizza and we expect that growth to continue.
Another area I see on the rise is an interest in American regional crust styles. I believe guests are becoming more educated about the fact that there are many different regional styles of crust and pizza and they want to explore and celebrate those differences. Again I point to the Detroit style pizza trend.
Wiley: Customers are always looking for healthy eating options, and we do our best by offering a thin crust, pan pizza and gluten-free pizza.
Q: What's trending for sauce variations and ingredients for the new year?
Wiley: At Rapid Fired Pizza, we have always felt variety is the spice of life so have offered eight difference sauces since we opened in 2015. We also offer 20 dipping and hot sauces so our customers can further personalize their pizza creations.
Casale: I think we will see a continuation of people exploring non-tomato-based sauces. At Chuck E. Cheese's we see the popularity of Alfredo sauce and in addition to it becoming a staple ingredient used on our Cali Alfredo Pizza, we are exploring new menu items that feature a white Alfredo sauce.
In addition, you will see the continuation of global flavors reflected not only in pizza sauces but as dipping sauces for wings. Look for flavors like Korean Gochujang, yogurt-based sauces like Greek tzatziki and Haidari, South American sauces like Aji Amarillo and Chimichurri, and middle eastern flavors like Harrisa and Chermoula.
Q: Is the restaurant industry push toward more vegetable ingredients affecting toppings, and what about game meat?
Casale:I see vegetable toppings expanding into vegetables not typically seen on a pizza but have a strong health benefit like kale, Swiss chard and Brussel sprouts, even fennel and cauliflower. At Chuck E. Cheese's we are looking to expand our offerings to highlight the variety of fresh vegetables that we already offer. This year, we are testing a pesto pizza that features roasted cherry tomatoes and a Mediterranean pizza that highlights fresh spinach and tomatoes.
Wiley: Fresh vegetables are a staple at Rapid Fired Pizza, and we love being able to offer a great variety on a daily basis. We have not looked at game meats as of yet but may consider one as an LTO if we feel we can source and provide an excellent quality product to our customer.
Q: What about dine-in atmosphere? Is it still industrial chic and warehouse, or are innovations creating waves there?
Casale: I think the warehouse look has reached its peak and will begin to give way to a more authentic, classic pizza atmosphere. Pizza is a comfort food, and I believe guests are looking for an atmosphere to reflect that comfort. The new look will incorporate more of a classic neighborhood pizzeria feel (similar to our Peter Piper Pizza locations) with red checkered tablecloths, brick walls, low pendant lighting and wood molding. However, the atmosphere will utilize more modern materials that emphasize cleanliness and a more modern take on that classic look.
Wiley: Patrons love a variety of seating options with a pleasing decor with some elements of interest and surprise sprinkled throughout the store. The trend of customers wanting things the way the want, i.e. the type of seating, is not changing anytime soon.
Q: Do you think the fact that Neapolitan pizza is now a UNESCO world heritage item is going to change the way that popular variety is sold and marketed outside of Italy?
Casale: Only for those pizza concepts that adhere to the UNESCO guidelines. For them, it will be a point of differentiation, but for most of the pizza industry, it will have little to no effect at all.
Wiley: Traditions, heritage and history are very important to our society and we commend UNESCO for their efforts to support and continue traditions. I would expect a modified term will be adopted and accepted by concepts that use a modified version of the true Neapolitan pizza.
Q: And from the old to the new, what's tech bringing to pizza restaurateuring these days beyond ever increasing ordering and delivery platforms?
Wiley: Customers desire more control over what they eat and the ability to use nutrition calculators are extremely important in the quick service industry since it's built on the build-it-the-way-you-want-it premise. Allowing customer to make smart choices is very rewarding for a brand. ...
(Then there's) the big hot topic in QSR —Delivery. Delivery. Delivery. Customers want it, and the brands that don't embrace it will have an uphill battle for customers dollars.
Casale: Chuck E. Cheese's is benefiting from tech innovations such as tablets to help guests with ordering additional food or play points from their tables to self-service kiosks, to home delivery using third-party partners including GrubHub, DoorDash and UberEATS. This year more concepts will take advantage of tech in the kitchen in the form of smart cooking equipment that allows chefs to program specific times and heating methods. This equipment will also offer speed of preparation and central control programming that will both improve efficiency and help with labor issues associated with the increasing cost of labor.
This last question even prompted a last-minute response from Toppers Pizza Social Media and Public Relations Director Colleen Glendinning, who said the popularity of social media and travel is driving a lot of what's happening in pizza these days.
"As consumers are traveling more, and Instagram pictures of food from around the world become more prevalent, people are looking for ways to feel connected to and experience other cultures," she said in an email to Pizza Marketplace. "A common way to do this is through food. Whether people are cooking at home, or going out to eat, consumers today are looking for familiar options with an authentic or interesting twist.
Spicy flavors and regionally authentic sauces are trending right now, and with the demand for new, innovative flavors continuing to grow, we see millennials and Gen Z, not just opting for, but seeking out those unique taste experiences. ... 2018 is going to be a very fun year."
Topics: Business Strategy and Profitability, Cheese, Customer Service / Experience, Delivery, Dough, Food & Beverage, Health & Nutrition, Hot Products, Marketing / Branding / Promotion, Online / Mobile / Social, On the Menu, Pizza Sauce, Pizza Toppings, Trends / Statistics
Award-winning veteran print and broadcast journalist, Shelly Whitehead, has spent most of the last 30 years reporting for TV and newspapers, including the former Kentucky and Cincinnati Post and a number of network news affiliates nationally. She brings her cumulative experience as a multimedia storyteller and video producer to the web-based pages of Pizzamarketplace.com and QSRweb.com after a lifelong “love affair” with reporting the stories behind the businesses that make our world go ‘round. Ms. Whitehead is driven to find and share news of the many professional passions people take to work with them every day in the pizza and quick-service restaurant industry. She is particularly interested in the growing role of sustainable agriculture and nutrition in food service worldwide and is always ready to move on great story ideas and news tips.