It seems the future of pizza hinges on just how far retailers are willing to stray from the confines of that traditional pizza box.
"If you get too far outside the box, you’ll probably sell less pizza," said Neal Hollingsworth, vice president of marketing at Hot Stuff Pizza.
And if you stay cloistered within the box, you might wither and die. "We’ll go somewhere new and different, but cautiously," Hollingsworth said. "I’d rather do that than put a product in the field and watch my franchisees send me cases and cases of it back."
With all the budding trends and blossoming tastes—such as gourmet pizzas, whole-wheat crusts, pesto and peanut sauces—traditional pizzas with toppings like pepperoni, sausage and mushroom are still most likely to be gobbled up by U.S consumers.
"I don’t think pepperoni will lose its top spot," said Sara Gillis, a project analyst at Chicago-based research firm Technomic Inc., who authored the 2008 Pizza Trends study.
U.S. consumers are a fickle bunch these days, and they’re speaking as much with their money as with their mouths. When Technomic last gauged Pizza Trends in 2006, fully 35% of consumers ordered pizza during the week and 28% ordered it during the weekend. Those numbers flipped in 2008, with about 32% of consumers ordering pizza on the weekend as opposed to 29% ordering on weekdays. Researchers suspect the shift has been fueled by consumers tightening their budgets and eating at home during the week, then ordering cheaper meals on the weekends.
Costs Going Up
Rising energy and raw material costs have driven prices in all facets of foodservice, and pizza hasn’t been spared. Some large chains are now offering discounts to customers who pick up pizzas to go.
"Increased food costs are a trend," said Dean Dirks, of convenience store foodservice consulting firm Dirks Associates LLC, of Gig Harbor, Wash. Wheat has increased to $12.50 per bushel this year, compared to $5.80 per bushel last year, Dirks said, while a 50-pound bag of flour that was $9 two years ago is now $36. The price of cheese has increased 25%, the price of eggs 35%.
But price alone isn’t a qualifier for pizza purchases. PMQ’s most recent Pizza Power Report rated new convenience mechanisms, such as "online ordering," as one of the top trends in pizza programs for the coming year. Other solutions such as customer-activated ordering and in-store terminals and kiosks are making headway.
This could bode well for convenience stores, those lodestars of on-the-go ordering. Cody’s Convenience Stores, a 36-store chain headquartered in Springfield, Mo., recently switched its proprietary pizza program to Hot Stuff Pizza. After acquiring nine stores from Snak Atak this year, Cody’s plans to install Hot Stuff at 25 to 30 sites by mid-summer, said Curtis Jared, the company’s president and CEO.
Cody’s stores recently expanded its foodservice ordering options, namely offering call-ahead and fax-ahead services as a short-term solution. Plans are in the works to add online ordering, Jared said.
"That’s something we’ve talked about doing down the road, and it’s a good possibility," Jared said. In pizza offerings, Cody’s has stuck to the staples with Hot Stuff. "It creates consistency with the product. As soon as we put it in, the customer seemed to agree with it."