Over the past year, home baking including pizza saw a bit of revival as the pandemic forced people to stay at home. Home baking had been losing some of its sheen since after the 2008 recession when scratch cooking had grown significantly as consumers looked to curb their spending. Over the last five years, there has been easier access to readymade foods and food delivery services have exploded, according to Spoonshot.com.
During the initial months, baking became such a popular activity that there were actually flour shortages, forcing people to use whatever they could get their hands on, including gluten-free flours. Spoonshot data show that consumer interest in almond flour has grown by 102% in the United States since 2019.
So, how is the gluten-free trend influencing pizza – both in terms of consumer demand and alternative production methods for pizza makers?
“Its influence was felt about a decade ago as demand for it started to increase. At this point there are several companies who have developed gluten-free products that are much better than the early versions, and they are more easily accessible through suppliers,” explains Jeremy White, content director and editor-in-chief for Pizza Today, Pizza Expo, and the Artisan Bakery Expo. “Pizza makers have gotten comfortable with the product and have done a good job for the most part of making it available to customers who want or need gluten-free.”
The main go-to flour options for gluten-free baking have been almond or coconut flours, mainly because these are also sought after by consumers following keto, paleo, or low-carb diets, according to experts. But there are numerous emerging options for alternative or gluten-free flours that could grow the space of “flourless” baked foods.
The future of the gluten-free product market looks promising with opportunities in the conventional sources, hotels and resorts, educational institutions, hospitals and drug stores, and specialty stores. The major growth drivers for this market are health benefits, adoption of special dietary lifestyles, increasing awareness of celiac disease and food allergies, and wider availability of gluten-free products.
For example, Spin! Pizza, a 15-unit chain based in Kansas City with locations in Los Angeles, Dallas and Papillion, Nebraska, now features three kinds of crust, including gluten free and gluten free cauliflower.
Ed Brownell and Gail Lozoff founded the company in 2004, after working together at Bagel & Bagel.
“After months of trial and error and with the help of friends and family, a final SPIN! menu was created, and the first restaurant opened in 2004. The fast-casual concept, one of the first of its kind, opened with grand reviews and long lines. The owners worked hard to ensure a culture of guest first service which resulted in locals driving across town with a demand to open more locations in their area.”
The future is now
Pizza is leading the charge among consumers dining out, and gluten-free pizza offers an attractive option for both consumers and pizza makers.
Hailey Rogers, R&D Chef at Ardent Mills, and Sarah Waller, channel marketing lead for Ardent Mills, point out that pizza consumption is on the rise, and as restrictions are lifted, consumers are wanting to support local pizza shops.
Higher customer demand for authenticity – food with a story – as well as increased consumption of better-for-you crust.
“Grains have a great story,” Waller says. “Whole grains, plant-based or vegan, Keto, better-quality carbs.”
Gluten-free has been on menus for a long time, and current research reveals that nearly a quarter of US consumers have a gluten-free preference.
“Gluten-free is not going away,” Waller points out.
People are fascinated with heritage grains – sharing stories of origin – as well as regional styles of pizza, such as Neapolitan.
Rogers points out that gluten-free options now represent a big chunk of the public demand, and more consumers strongly agree they would choose healthier options when on the menu.
“Ancient heirloom grains can really complement that space because they are gluten-free already. They are hitting a number of notes with people,” she says.
Chickpea flour in pizza crust is one example, and also quinoa flour and gluten-free pizza flour.
Pizza crusts can represent an untapped sales opportunity, Waller says, for example, an ancient grain pizza dough ball which she says could attract large appeal.
“Plant forward diets have staying power,” she says. “Look for consumers to be more open to new flavors and mashups.”
Great-tasting pizza crust is non-negotiable for pizza lovers, so Ardent Mills has made it simple to give them delicious taste with the nutritional benefits of a gluten-free food. Gluten-free Pizza Flour from Ardent Mills makes your toppings shine, while giving gluten-free eaters a tasty way to enjoy the pizza they love.
“What’s better for you and what’s better for the planet – that’s a driving force,” Rogers says. “Be ready for consumers to come back craving their old favorites, in addition to new and exciting twists.”