While 2020 and 2021 brought uncertainty, 2022 is the year for the pizzeria industry to forge new paths, said Bill Oakley, show director for the International Pizza Expo that was held March 22-24 in Las Vegas. The pizzeria industry has faced numerous unprecedented challenges since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. For many, ingredient supply could not meet consumer demand, as pizza — pickup and delivery — became a staple for many households.

The past two years also enabled pizzeria suppliers to work behind the scenes and develop innovative crusts, sauces and toppings to keep pizza relevant to the post-pandemic consumer who is craving new flavors with a focus on health and wellness. Here are five innovations that stood out at this year’s event. 

1.Chicken crust

You read that right — chicken crust. It’s a zero-carbohydrate, gluten-free, high-protein base for pizza. The keto-friendly crust is made with chicken breast, olive oil, salt and spices. The ingredients are blended into an emulsion and formed into 8-inch and 12-inch rounds. Produced by ZeroCarb Lyfe, Evansville, Ind., the company said 56% of return customers to pizzerias who purchased ZeroCarb crust did so again, compared with 17% of return customers who purchased cauliflower crust. The fully cooked crusts have a 12-month frozen shelf life and a 3- to 4-day refrigerated shelf life. They bake into a crispy crust without the calories or carbohydrates of traditional wheat crust. They also may be used for quesadillas and wraps. An 8-inch crust contains 220 calories, 41 grams of protein and 5 grams of fat.

2. Vegetable-infused raw dough shells

The healthy shells are available in broccoli, cauliflower, chickpea and sweet potato varieties. Manufactured by Delorio Foods Inc., Utica, NY, the wheat-based doughs deliver extra nutrition in a familiar format and include 30% to 38% of the specified vegetable. The fresh-to-frozen manufacturing process is the closest option to fresh dough without going through the entire dough-making process, according to the company. DeIorio’s frozen pizza dough balls come in different sizes and styles.

3. Jackfruit topping

Jackfruit in brine is a new topping from Dole Foodservice, Thousand Oaks, Calif., a company that supplies pineapple triangles to pizzerias. This topping is less about being a meat alternative and more about adding fruit and flavor. It is made with shredded green jackfruit that has a neutral flavor and may serve as a canvas for seasonings, such as barbecue spices, hot sauce or even Buffalo. 

4. Liquid cream cheese

Cream cheese that pours onto crust provides an economical alternative to alfredo for white sauces. It complements savory and sweet toppings, with the latter allowing for dessert pizza innovation, according to the supplier, Savencia Cheese USA, New Holland, Pa. 

5. Sweet potato flatbread

The flatbread from Rich Products, Buffalo, NY, delivers the subtle sweetness of sweet potato and a colorful visual appeal. It may be thawed and served, or baked from the freezer, and complements both sweet and savory flavors. At the International Pizza Expo, it was served as a dessert pizza with s’more toppings, including a chocolate drizzle, mini marshmallows and a graham crumble. 

There were other innovations at the show. On the meat alternative side, options were plentiful. Jack & Bry from the United Kingdom sampled its Willaroos jackfruit pepperoni, a plant-based topping used by the Papa John’s chain in the UK. and The Netherlands.

Abbots Butcher, Temecula, Calif., used pea protein, olive oil and seasonings to make chorizo-style crumbles, ground “beef” and chopped “chicken.” 

Alle Processing, Maspeth, NY, has been producing soy-based meat alternatives for pizzerias before plant based was even a trend. Sold under the Mon Cuisine brand to foodservice, the company offers seasoned crumbles, “meatballs” and diced “chicken.” 

When it comes to cheese alternatives, Petaluma, Calif.-based Miyoko’s Creamery, a plant-based dairy alternative manufacturer, threw away the rule book to craft a vegan pizza mozzarella by focusing on the desired end result:  meltiness. Rather than creating a solid block of vegan cheese and shred it, Miyoko stripped out the solids and ingredients that hinder meltability, such as anti-caking agents used to prevent clumping, and focused on the melt with this liquid cheese. The perishable product is formulated with organic cashews and organic sunflower oil as the top-two ingredients. The formulation includes a touch of mushroom extract for umami and vegan cultures for mozzarella flavor development. 

Saputo Dairy USA, Lincolnshire, Ill., brought its range of Vitalite branded vegan-certified, dairy-free cheese alternatives to the US market. The launch of the Vitalite brand into the United States follows the success it has had in the dairy-free category in the UK since 2003. The retail line includes mozzarella-style shreds and slices, cheddar-style shreds and slices, Parmesan-style grated topping and cream cheese-style spread.