Nothing against a thin-crust cheese, but today’s pizzas have it going on in terms of variety. From build-your-own to cauliflower-based crusts to unusual vegetable and protein toppings, innovations in pizza open the door for foodservice programs at retail to build greater interest and get their own bigger piece of the profit pie.
Pizza has long been a favorite meal solution for delivery, takeout, make-at-home and—with the growth of in-store prepared foods areas and delis—grab-and-go in the supermarket. In its most recent Pizza Consumer Trend Report, Technomic found that pizza consumption is still trending up, and new and innovative toppings are important to today’s consumers. Pizza-eating occasions are also shifting, with more opportunities for lunch and takeout.
Grocers can get creative with their foodservice pizza programs, going beyond the basics and bringing some of that excitement to the prepared foods area, deli, grocerant or hot food bar, depending on where they prepare and merchandise hot pizza.
Tops Markets LLC, based in Williamsville, N.Y., bills itself as “Your Home for Pizza” to its shoppers. In addition to promoting handcrafted ingredients, Tops offers customizable “Pick 8” pizza specials, in which consumers can select eight slices from the day’s pizza offering and create a custom pizza. Slice choices include traditional sausage supreme, pepperoni and margherita cheese, as well as unique varieties such as broccoli chicken, three-cheese steak, chicken wing and white pizza.
Variety is indeed the spice of life when it comes to pizza, says Tops spokeswoman Kathy Romanowski. “While many consumers are likely to purchase the same type of pizza every time, fewer consumers do so today than in the past. Consumers are more interested now than two years ago in trying pizzas with unique toppings or ingredients. This indicates an opportunity to spark interest by adding variety and innovative offerings,” she says.
Breakfast pizzas are another daypart opportunity for retailer’s foodservice programs. The Market Street chain of stores in Texas, for example, offers a variety of breakfast foods to go, including hot breakfast pizzas. Tops, too, carries breakfast pizzas as part of its broad pizza menu.
In keeping with hot restaurant trends, some grocers have brought wood-fired pizza ovens in-house. Whole Foods Market, for example, has wood-fired pizza bars in many of its locations, combining the theatrics of food preparation with just-made whole pizzas, slices and calzones. AJ’s Fine Foods, based in Chandler, Ariz., sells wood-fired pizzas under its own Cucina Italiana foodservice brand, with choices such as chicken, pesto, and artichokes and chicken cacciatore, in addition to standards such as five-cheese, meat lovers, spinach and barbecue chicken.
To meet the needs of busy shoppers, some retailers offer other pizza options. In addition to hot pizza sold in its Market District prepared foods area, Giant Eagle now offers Take & Bake pizza that can be made in 12 to 15 minutes at home.
Grocers can complement their pizzas with other pizza products, knowing that sometimes shoppers want to bring it home, and other times they want to make it themselves. Tops Markets, for its part, offers fixings to make pizzas at home, including pizza dough balls, ready-made crust, pizza sauces, cheeses and toppings. “Data indicated an opportunity to offer products to help consumers prepare pizza at home,” says Romanowski, noting that pizza crusts and dough balls were the strongest-growing segments in the category in 2017. “This provided us with an opportunity to grow incremental sales with a ‘Craft Your Own Pizza’ destination in our store.” Tops Markets has also promoted cross-merchandising with several store departments, she says.