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Ubiquitous PizzaUbiquitous Pizza

January 3, 2011

11 Min Read
Ubiquitous Pizza

By Kara Nielsen

Pizza is everywhere today: trendy urban artisan pizzerias, popular casual-dining chains, natural food stores freezer cases, even on the street. Its authentic and its ethnic, its wholesome and indulgent. And it can be enjoyed any time of day. What is it about this food that makes it so popular?

Pizza pleases just about everyone, mainly because of its cravable combination of crunchy-chewy dough, tangy sauce with an umami punch, and richly savory cheese. But pizza is so much more. For many, its the ideal comfort food. Pizza is also affordable for the cost-conscious. Yet its difficult to make at home from scratch, so consumers turn to foodservice to provide the goods.


Many chefs are currently enamored with artisan pizza, a subject the Center for Culinary Development profiled in the June 2010 Culinary Trend Mapping Report: Artisan Foods," published by Packaged Facts.

Chefs have returned to the source, Naples, to learn the art and tradition of the pizzaiolo, a certified pizza maker trained in the rules" of Neapolitan pizzas. The focus here is on building flavor in slowly fermented doughs made with imported Italian zero-zero (ultrafine) flour. The hand-formed, thin-crust pies are topped with a list of specific ingredients, such as San Marzano tomatoes and buffalo mozzarella, and baked in wood-fired ovens.

The artisan pizza trend kicked off in New York and San Francisco in 2004 with a few well-known pizzerias setting the stage, including Anthony Mangieris Una Pizza Napoletana in the East Village and San Franciscos A16. Only about 200 of Americas 69,000 pizzerias are considered artisan, but its a fast-growing group thats getting plenty of attention. According to Adam Kuban and Ed Levine, authors of Pizza: A Slice of Heaven" (Universe, 2005), the top artisan pizzeria in the country is in Phoenix, Pizzeria Bianco. Its most lauded pie comes adorned with Parmesan cheese, red onions, rosemary and Arizona pistachioscertainly not a Neapolitan recipe!

Chains can borrow specific artisan elements to appeal to connoisseur consumers. Focusing on well-fermented doughs, hand-forming crusts, upgrading ovens, using natural cheeses and fresh herbs, and opting for cured meats are just a few ideas.

Many independents showcase new flavor combinations that can generate new ideas. Pizzeria Mozza in Los Angeles serves pies adorned with squash blossoms, fresh burrata cheese, Yukon Gold potatoes and cured meats like prosciutto, speck (a type of prosciutto) and guanciale (an unsmoked Italian bacon made from pig jowls).


For chain restaurants, fresh ingredients are an important indicator of improved quality and care. People are looking for freshness and quality," says Valentino Mennitto, CEC, director of research and development, Papa Ginos Pizzeria. He developed a bruschetta pizza using fresh mozzarella, a first for the chain. When the pizza comes out of the oven, the cooks sprinkle fresh tomatoes, garlic, basil and olive oil over the crust. Whats interesting is that hot-pizza hit with the cold mixture; the aromas of basil and garlic come right off of it," he explains. To elevate the freshness a notch, hes working on a way to make the topping to order so every ingredient shines.

Francis Wall, vice president of marketing, Belgioioso Cheese, notes that his company formulates fresh cheeses specifically for pizza. The company offers a fresh mozzarella with a lower moisture level, so it melts well in both deck and wood-fired ovens. The company also offers burrata, a hand-formed fresh mozzarella ball filled with shreds of fresh cheese and cream. It makes a great white pizza, or a unique Margherita," he notes.

Some vegetables give pizza a fresher feel. California Pizza Kitchen has a new Roasted Artichoke-Spinach pie, while Papa Ginos is developing a Spinach-Artichoke Pizza made with dip that is spread on the dough then covered with cheese. Pizzas with names like Harvest Vegetable, a thin-crust pie at Unos Chicago Grill, also add allure. This one comes on the chains signature Five-Grain crust and features fresh salsa, spinach, sun-dried tomatoes and broccoli.


Fresh ingredients are also part of the trend toward more healthful pizzas. Technomics 2010 Pizza Consumer Trend Report" indicated that 41% of pizza consumers would like more healthful ingredients on restaurant pies, such as whole-wheat crusts, organic toppings and all-natural and locally sourced ingredients. Chris Gatto, vice president of food and beverage, Unos Chicago Grill, says they have seen an increase in thin-crust sales because of the 2005 introduction of the Five-Grain crust, made from whole wheat, toasted wheat germ, oat bran, sesame seeds and flax seeds. Unos was extremely surprised by its popularity.

Many other small and large chains have followed suit by offering whole-grain crusts, including Pizza Fusion and zpizza, which both use organic white and whole-wheat flour. Larger chains like Bertuccis and California Pizza Kitchen also have a whole-wheat crust option.

The increased availability of white whole-wheat flours, which bake and taste just like refined while floursalong with advances in milling technologyhas improved consumer interest in whole-wheat in chain foodservice. Consumers did not anticipate any taste differences between the non-whole-wheat and whole-wheat menu items," says Jen Wulf, manager of consumer insights, ConAgra Foods, manufacturers of Ultragrain. This is really good news, as sometimes consumers worry about how a whole-wheat product will taste."

However, that doesnt mean whole grains and pizzas will be successful for every operator. Both Papa Murphys and Papa Ginos tested whole-wheat crusts, but their customers didnt show much interest. Harris says Papa Murphys consumers tend to treat pizza as an indulgence.

One chain clearly focusing on healthful crusts is Naked Pizza, a single store in New Orleans with 96 franchises in the works. Naked Pizza bills itself as the Worlds Healthiest Pizza." Its crust contains 12 whole grains, nuts and roots, and is fortified with prebiotic fiber and heat-resistant probiotics.

Gluten-free is another area of development for pizza these days. But there are certainly challenges for gluten-free crusts in the flour-filled environment of a pizza restaurant. Crusts must come into the back of the house pre-made and sealed in a bag; they must be handled in special, flour-free stations and baked on a pan so as to not touch flour on an oven floor. Sharon Fratilla, owner, Across the Board Resource, notes that a new type of ovenable pizza packaging is in the works that can be heated to over 400°F, thereby allowing a pre-made pizza to come in and leave the kitchen with no risk of cross-contamination.


Whatever kind of crust serves as a base for the pie, flavor is still paramount. Consumers are broadening their interest in food and desire to try new things, more than even a year ago," says Carron Harris, vice president of product development, Papa Murphys. To meet these expanded taste buds, Papa Murphys is testing Thai Chicken Pizza with a sweet Thai chili sauce. The chain also accommodates regional taste demands with ingredients like spicy andouille sausage for Louisiana markets.

In some cases, regional interest can span across the country. Such is the case with the new Dominos Wisconsin 6 Cheese pizza, its first new product since famously tweaking its recipes. This dairy-centric pie is topped with mozzarella, feta, provolone, Cheddar, Parmesan and Asiago.

Unos Chicago Grill ups the flavor with its Wowza Sauce, which includes Samuel Adams Boston Lager. The Wowza Chicken pizza features peppered chicken and spicy banana peppers, along with onions, green peppers, and Cheddar and mozzarella cheeses. Unos also recently offered Jambalaya Pizza with chicken, shrimp and spicy andouille sausage.

Many of these bold flavored pies are aimed at audiences craving big tastes. Pizza Patrón offers chorizo for its Latin consumers. Other companies focus on Generation Y. ARAMARK launched the Topios pizza brand for college foodservice after extensive research into this key demographic. Topios pizzas are made with fresh-pressed, thin-crust doughs, organic crushed tomatoes, and mozzarella and Asiago cheeses. Student diners can customize their pies with a variety of spice blends including Smokin Hot, Cheesy Hot and Spicy Hot.

Toppers Pizza, a 26-unit chain, is decidedly geared toward younger-adult diners. Its offerings include Taco Topper, Mac N Cheese and even Hangover Helper, made with Canadian bacon, onions, green peppers, potatoes, bacon bits, and Cheddar and mozzarella cheeses. Toppers Smoky BBQ Chicken pie features onions, bacon bits and a smoky sauce topped with pepper Jack and mozzarella cheese. Pizza Inn has found solid demand for its recently released Loaded Baked Potato pizza, which includes a Ranch dressing sauce, mozzarella and Cheddar cheeses, bacon, and sliced potatoes, as well as a sprinkling of chives after baking. These playful and indulgent pizzas show how creative pizza making can be.

Other innovative pies borrow from global and classic cuisines for inspiration. At zpizza, a spate of creative pies is on the menu, including the Moroccan, with roasted eggplant, feta and pine nuts, and Chicken Curry & Yam, with mango chutney, raisins and cilantro. Tapping into classic French cuisine, a Papa Johns customer created the Chicken Cordon Bleu pizza for a Specialty Pizza Challenge. It features spinach Alfredo sauce, grilled white-meat chicken, ham, onions and four cheesesmozzarella, Asiago, provolone and fontina.


Pizza innovation can also come from form. At The Cheesecake Factory, rectangular appetizer pizzettes are a popular menu item. Bob Okura, CEC, vice president of culinary development and corporate executive chef, says the economy has been partially responsible for increased sales of the mini pizzas, available in flavors like Roasted Pear & Blue Cheese, which also adds pecans, arugula and caramelized onion in addition to the pears and cheese. These little pizzas are full of flavor and texture, and are as satisfying as their larger counterparts. But because they are smaller, they allow our guests to have not only a great pizza experience, but something else, like burgers or pasta, as part of their meal, as well," he explains.

Pizza is also beginning to appear in new places, like the breakfast menu and on the street. California Pizza Kitchen is serving breakfast pizzas in select locations like the Honolulu airport. Offerings include the Florentine with scrambled eggs, applewood-smoked bacon, spinach and mozzarella cheese, and the Warm Apple Pie made with Granny Smith apples and a topping of brown sugar and butter dusted with cinnamon. One Dominos unit near the University of Dayton offers an egg-and-cheese morning pizza.

Capitalizing on the hot street-food trend, California Pizza Kitchen has launched CPK Mobile Kitchen for on-site caterings. Many other independent pizza makers add wheels to wood-fired ovens and take pizza making on the road for street-food festivals, farmers markets and street munching. Whether its morning, noon or night, theres a pizza out there for every consumer.

Kara Nielsen is trendologist at the Center for Culinary Development in San Francisco. She analyzes food and beverage trends, leads trend tours and speaks publicly on culinary trend topics in addition to editing the bi-monthly Culinary Trend Mapping Report," published by Packaged Facts.


Retail Innovation

According to Technomics 2010 Pizza Consumer Trend Report," 81% of consumers today are buying frozen pizza compared to 74% in 2008. This is fueled not only by economics, but the fact that 30% of consumers in 2010 believe frozen pizza is of equal or better quality than restaurant pizza, compared to 15% of consumers two years ago.

Clearly, retail pizza is giving foodservice pies a run for their money. They fit into consumer trends of convenience, being microwaveable, and better-for-you, with organic ingredients and multigrain or even gluten-free crusts.

Pizza on-the-go takes the form of microwaveable pockets from both Lean Pockets Seasoned Crust Pizzeria and Hot Pockets Cheese Stuffed Crust Pizzeria. Restaurants can be inspired by these types of meals to develop more portable lunch-time pizza offerings in pocket and calzone shapes.

Reinforcing whole-grain trends, Mintels Jan. 2010 Pizza at Retail" report lists at least eight new pizza products with whole-grain claims introduced in 2009. One example is Targets Archer Farms organic Wheat Crust Roasted Vegetable Pizza with 15 grams of whole grains per serving. Beyond wheat, Glutino offers gluten-free frozen pizzas in varieties like Spinach & Feta and even vegan Spinach Soy Cheese Pizza with brown rice crusts.

Other new pizzas show off premium and restaurant-style flavors such as DiGiornos Ultimate Toppings with 50% more pepperoni in two layers. Kashis Caribbean Carnival features guava jerk sauce, plantains, kale, roasted red onions and diced mango on Seven Whole Grain crust for a decidedly global experience. Palermos Primo Thin Chicken Fajita pizza has a multigrain crust, Mexicali sauce, Monterey Jack cheese and grilled chicken in Southwestern spices for a more-familiar regional taste. Retail lines are even getting into breakfast pizzas": Kelloggs Eggo recently launched frozen Real Fruit Pizzas on waffles and topped with yogurt, fruit and granola.

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