By Heather Porter Engwall, director of National Product Communications, Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board
Pizza is already one of America's all-time favorite foods, but it continues to grow in popularity. According to Technomic's 2014 Pizza Consumer Trend report, 75 percent of consumers eat pizza twice a month. Specialty and gourmet pizzas in particular are taking limited and full-service operators by storm as consumers want more choices in the style of crust, sauce and toppings. Menu mentions of specialty pizza are specifically up by 5 percent over the past year, and we think these five trends are helping drive sales.
Specialty pizza purveyors are embracing ethnic flavors. Moroccan and Caribbean influences are showing up on menus across the country as chefs find new ways to expand customers' pallets with unique spices and flavors. For example, a Caribbean-inspired Jerk Chicken Pizza with Mango Salsa combines jerk spice with barbeque sauce, fresh fruits and vegetables, and a blend of mint, basil and cilantro to enhance the flavor. A Moroccan-style pizza features a flavorful garlic pesto sauce blended with turmeric, cumin and smoked paprika, then topped with fresh vegetables, cashews, and plenty of feta and fresh mozzarella cheese that packs flavor into every bite.
Fresh, high-quality ingredients
Quality and freshness are both top of mind for consumers when it comes to specialty pizza. According to Technomic, an average of 43 percent of consumers return to their favorite pizza operator because they are known to use fresh, high-quality ingredients. While tomatoes, mushrooms and onions continue to lead in fresh non-protein toppings, fresh can mean more than just vegetables on pizza. For example, "fresh mozzarella" is called out on 6.6 percent of the top 250 full service restaurant menus. Callouts like these strongly convey quality to consumers.
Many specialty operators are also exploring better-for-you options. According to a recent study by Smart Foods, 68 percent of pizza lovers in the United States exercise two times or more per week and are very conscious of the ingredients in their favorite foods. Today, we see more requests for gluten-free pizza, particularly among the Millennial demographic. A rise in the number of pizza operators making thin-crust and flatbread pizzas can also be attributed to consumer demand for more healthful options.
Unique flavor profiles
Just because consumers are looking for more healthful options doesn't mean they want less flavor. In fact, bold and upscale flavors and toppings are increasing in demand. Savory herb crusts, sweet sauces like barbeque and ranch, and spicy cheeses with hints of jalapeño, herbs, garlic, and peppers are all on the rise.
Unique cheese blends
Incorporating a unique combination of several cheeses on a pizza is elevating flavor profiles on specialty pizzas. Some cheese producers are even creating custom specialty cheese blends for chefs and foodservice operators. These producers must pay close attention to cheese fat content and acidity, melt characteristics, browning ability, stretch, age and texture — following the general rule that blended cheeses with similar melt characteristics perform better than those with less similar characteristics.
What pizza trends are on your radar?