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Menu trends come and go but pizza has always been a constant. And with savvy new concepts popping up all over the country, pizza operators are stepping up their game in order to differentiate.
For example, while pepperoni, mozzarella and tomato sauce remain the staple toppings in the pizza space, other options seem to be gaining ground, according to a new report from foodservice data firm Food Genius called "Slicing the Pie: Pizza Trends in the U.S."
Food Genius offered permission to summarize some of the report's highlights about the ubiquitous pizza pie, which is represented on 40 percent of all U.S. menus. Among those highlights are:
Gluten-free. Pizza chains have put forth much effort in recent years to feed their gluten-sensitive customers — including chains such as Domino's and Chuck E. Cheese's — and now pizza is the second leading gluten-free dish (after salad) across all menus and meal parts. Among pizza menus, 3 percent offer a gluten-free offering, and among gluten-free menus, 38 percent mention pizza.
Pricing. Half of the restaurants that offer pizza do so in the $7 to $12 range. Consumers' expected value of pizza is about $8. Food Genius reports that, on average, independent pizzas are about $2 more than chain pizzas.
Flatbread. Flatbread's popularity continues to grow, and it is now offered on 7 percent of menus (including, most recently, Pizza Hut's). Food Genius reports that "the most common sauces on flatbread are vastly different than those of pizza. Operators should consider salad dressing as a potential flatbread sauce or garnishment, such as ranch drizzle."
Cheese.While mozzarella cheese is found on 60 percent of pizza menus, other cheese offerings make up their fair share of popularity as well, including parmesan, cheddar, feta, ricotta and provolone.
Sauce.Besides tomato sauce — included on 24 percent of menus that mention sauce — barbecue (22 percent) and pesto (19 percent) are also gaining popularity on menus, each up 1 full percentage point in the past year.
Proteins.Pepperoni edges out sausage for menu mentions (60 to 59 percent) in the protein category, followed very closely by chicken (58 percent). Bacon, ham and beef all fall within the 37 to 40-percent range.
Vegetables. Just 19 percent of pizza menu mentions do not include veggies. Vegetables are so popular as a topping, in fact, that onions, tomatoes, peppers or mushrooms are each mentioned on more than 60 percent of chain and independent menus. Gaining momentum as a topping request are jalapeno peppers and pickles. Toppers, Pizza Inn, Papa John's, Your Pie and Papa Murphy's each recently introduced a pizza topped with pickles, either burger or Cuban-inspired.
To derive this information, Food Genius tracked more than 87,000 menus and more than 50.6 million menu items.
Alicia Kelso / Alicia has been a professional journalist for 15 years. Her work with FastCasual.com, QSRweb.com and PizzaMarketplace.com has been featured in publications around the world, including NPR, Good Morning America, Voice of Russia radio, Consumerist.com and Franchise Asia magazine.