Nearly half of consumers said the crust is the most important component of a pizza, and 30% are interested in wood-fired or coal-fired styles.
“This might indicate that consumers are really leaning toward that more authentic style or understanding that cooking method and technique affect the quality of their pizza,” says Jennifer Aranas, project manager at Datassential, a Chicago-based food industry research firm. “They’re a little more educated in not just that it’s a style but a cooking method that has to be high heat with a certain kind of Italian flour that you just can’t get from any other type of pizza.”
The base can make or break a pie for many consumers, who reported dissatisfaction with the quality of crust from take-and-bake and frozen pizzas.
“Some of their top frustrations are that the crust is cardboardy or not what they get when they order pizza from a restaurant,” Aranas said. “From a barrier standpoint from what retail offers, that is one of their top things because when consumers are making it at home, they oftentimes can’t get to the temperature they need it to be to get a really good crust or they’re cooking it in their microwave.”
Pepperoni may be the perennial favorite, but such pizza toppings as eggs, kale and butternut squash are on the rise. While consumers remain true to traditional varieties, restaurants are rolling out more premium pie flavors. Take Pizza Hut, for example, which in November added Peruvian cherry peppers, sriracha sauce and a curry crust to the menu.
“Chains primarily, but independents as well, are looking to innovate to capture more folks than the just cheese, pepperoni, sausage folks,” says Aranas. “People know that’s available, so how do you grab the younger demographics, that millennial age group that tends to be more daring when trying new things?”
In its latest report on the pizza category, Datassential tracked menu trends and surveyed consumers on pizza consumption and purchasing patterns. Two out of three Americans eat pizza every week, with 40% of respondents picking pepperoni on their most recent slice, followed by sausage and meat lovers (both 16%), supreme (15%), cheese (8%) and vegetarian (7%).
While the classic varieties are most widely available in restaurants, such toppings as cotto salami, pepper bacon and pancetta are among the fastest growing proteins on pizza.
“When we look at sauces and flavorings, what we see out there already are marinara, barbecue, pesto, but some of the highly trending flavors are garlic cream, truffle oil, balsamic glaze,” Aranas said. “Some of toppings that we’re seeing growing faster than traditional toppings are kale, shallots, sage, a lot of fall vegetables like butternut squash, roasted mushrooms.
“In terms of cheese, there are more premium cheeses out there like taleggio, burrata, actual Parmesan reggiano. Leaning toward that more upscale type of cheese.”