Is Pizza at your Restaurant Still Hot?

Pizza consumption has reached a all time restaurant  highCheesy, gooey, mouthwatering pizza. There’s a reason it’s a perennial winner on favorite food lists. But is it as popular today as it’s been for the past 10, 25, or even 50 years?

The answer, according to food-centric research and consulting firm Technomic? A resounding yes.

Let’s take a closer look at Technomic’s findings, along with key takeaways for restaurant owners looking to serve up the perfect pizza-eating experience for customers.

The 411 on Pizza’s Popularity

Not only did pizza consumption reach a four-year high in 2013, but growth in pizza-focused concepts was consistent across the various dining segments. Specifically, Technomic’s report — based on a survey of more than 1,500 consumers — reveals the following data:

• People now enjoy an average of four pizza occasions a month, compared to 3.4 just two years ago in 2014.

• Pizza preferences are increasingly about unique toppings. While just 32 percent of consumers indicated that new and innovative topics were an important part of making a good pizza in 2014, 39 percent stand behind this assertion today.

• Following an industry-wide trend, the pizza market is not immune from the consumer call for transparency. In fact, 32 percent of diners today — compared to 2014’s 25 percent — place a high value on having access to the nutritional content for the pizza they consume.

In other words, while pizza may be more popular than ever before, diners are also holding pizza-focused concepts to a higher standard.

And with more and more restaurants — from fine dining to quick service — adding pizza to their menus, the imperative is clear for establishments aiming to woo customers with their pizza offerings: Raise your game.

Actionable Insights for Restaurant Owners

Some noteworthy observations from Winsight, LLC, spring-boarding off of Technomic’s data?

For starters, the type of pizza diners buy depends heavily on where they’re dining. Reveals Winsight, “Consumers who buy pizza from limited-service restaurants are turning such flavorings as Buffalo sauce and Asiago cheese into the pie ingredients of the moment, but peers who prefer pies from full-service places are demanding comfort options like traditional tomato sauce and cheddar cheese.”

In other words, it’s not just about serving pizza, but also about knowing your market. For example, while prosciutto is a top choice in full-service, conventional restaurants, chicken is increasingly sought out as a healthy option in limited-service establishments.

The same applies to traditional tomato sauce, which remains the go-to choice in full-service restaurants but is quickly dwindling amidst a field of new options, like Sriracha, in the limited-service sector.

Certainly, changing consumer tastes are a large part of the picture — with the push for innovation from Millennial foodies leading the charge/

But changing consumer behaviors are also highly relevant to the discussion. For example, a 2016 Harris Poll of 2,193 adults reveals that while the majority of generations prefer thin crust pizza, Millennials have a strong preference for stuffed crust.

Or consider the gluten-free movement. The option of gluten-free crust is coming on strong in both segments and with good reason: While just one percent of people suffer from celiac disease, a full third of Americans are trying to steer clear of gluten.

In failing to offer a gluten-free pizza choice, therefore, restaurants risk losing out on this key segment. Conversely, vegetarian pizza options are surprisingly on the decline in both segments, making trimming down your vegetarian options a wise move.

With diners consuming so much pizza, it begs the question: How are they washing it all down? More than half (54 percent) prefer beer for their beverage, followed by wine, liquor/cocktails, and hard cider, at 9 percent, 9 percent, and 8 percent, respectively.

The remaining 21 percent, meanwhile, favor non-alcoholic beverages, according to Harris. (There are also regional differences, with the wine-pizza pairing skyrocketing to 30 percent in the West.)

One last thing to keep in mind? Pizza has picked up so much in popularity — particularly in the fast-casual market — that it’s achieved “signature option” status aside classics like burgers and sandwiches. In fact, a full 15 percent of restaurants now offer some sort of pizza entree on their menus — a particularly smart move considering the Harris Poll’s conclusion that a full 98 percent of the population eat pizza.

And while all of this represents exciting opportunities for restaurants, it’s also a challenge.

Because as these statistics make abundantly clear, serving pizza is only a fraction of the equation. Serving the right pizza is even more important when it comes to offering pleasing pizzas to today’s discerning diners.

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