A Pleasing Pizza Experience

pizzaA full 41% of respondents in a recent survey said they now eat pizza at least once a week, up from 26% two years ago, making pizza a $33.5-billion business, according to foodservice research firm Technomic.

By Marilyn Odesser-Torpey, Associate Editor.

Pizza is such a popular item at Casey’s General Store that, in August, the Ankeny, Iowa-based convenience store chain opened its first Casey’s Pizza Express store where whole pies and slices are the main attraction.

The standalone store is situated about a half-mile west of a full-service Casey’s c-store in Pleasant Hill, Iowa, which was selling so much pizza that, many nights, it would max out its production capacity of more than 100 fresh-from-scratch pies, said Bill Walljasper, the company’s senior vice president and chief financial officer.
The 1,600 square-foot Pizza Express store also sells pasta, chicken wings, breadsticks, fountain drinks and features a self-service frozen yogurt bar. It is the only freestanding pizza shop Casey’s plans to open at the present time, Walljasper said.

Casey’s, which has over 1,750 c-store units in 14 states, sold more than 12 million whole pizza pies and over 48 million slices last year. With the introduction of pizza delivery service in April 2011, pie sales increased by 30-40% at each location. Since then, Casey’s has expanded its pizza delivery service to 330 of its c-stores, including the one in Pleasant Hill. By the end of the fiscal year, Walljasper expects that number to climb to 350.

“When we look at our business, our goal is to provide the right products and services to our customers, so not only do we offer a made-from-scratch product, but we have expanded the ways of getting it into our customers’ hands,” Walljasper said.

Growth Expectations
According to Technomic, nearly half of the pizza consumers order from restaurants or other foodservice locations is for carryout, while about a third is for delivery and a fifth is for dine-in. Younger consumers use delivery service more often than their older counterparts; nearly two-fifths of the pizza ordered by consumers aged 18–34 is for delivery, compared to less than a third of pizza ordered by consumers aged 35 and older.

Casey’s has had the proprietary pizza program in its stores since the 1980s. “It’s what we’re known for, it’s a destination item,” Walljasper explained. “Pizza accounts for about 60% of our prepared food sales.”

Having its own proprietary brand allows Casey’s to maintain control over the products and the processes that go into making them, he said. He also noted that margins are also “significantly better” than with a branded quick-service program, and that while “it took some time to build brand identity, we have built a strong one.”
“The biggest challenge for a start-up brand is quality control and product consistency,” Walljasper said. “But we’ve been doing it for a long time now and have detailed processes in place.”

In addition to the traditional assortment of pizza toppings, Casey’s offers at least eight specialty pizzas ranging from taco with refried beans, salsa, beef, two kinds of cheeses, lettuce, tomatoes and nacho chips to chicken, ranch and bacon. The breakfast menu also features vegetarian, sausage and bacon pizzas. Three sizes are available: 12-, 14- and 16-inch.

Tailored Toward Customers
At La Crosse, Wis.-based Kwik Trip, the proprietary Cheese Mountain Pizza makes up one-quarter of its core food program, making it a major focus for the company, said Retail Food Service Director Paul Servais. The pizzas are shipped fresh to the stores from the company’s commissary and displayed in refrigerated cases.
Customers can take the unbaked pizzas home to bake off or have the stores do it for them in their TurboChef ovens. Sixty percent of the pizzas are purchased to be baked at home.

Research firm Mintel reported that take-and-bake pizza sales figures increased 1.5% for estimated 2013 sales of $255 million. “Take-and-bake pizzas may represent a growth opportunity for brands in the segment if they can leverage the freshness of their products against frozen pizzas and show that pizzas cooked at home offer taste and freshness comparable to takeout/delivery pizza,” Mintel’s pizza report found.

Technomic noted that convenience is the primary driver for take-and-bake pizza, which consumers view as a quick and easy meal solution that allows them to cook the pizza whenever they want, and takes less time than carryout or delivery.

Kwik Trip stores carry 12 thin and thick crust varieties plus a croissant-crust breakfast pizza. Limited time offer (LTO) varieties rotate in and out every eight weeks. Slices of seven varieties (including the LTO) are also available. If they are popular enough, LTOs can earn a permanent place on the menu, as Alfredo, which was tested two years ago, did.

Kwik Trip has had its own proprietary brand for more than 10 years. Servais noted that the company did initially partner with a quick-service brand and “while the concept was a good one, it’s in the culture of our company to want to have control and create our own brands.” All of the chain’s more than 400 locations serve pizza.

Practice for Perfection
Although gourmet-style pizzas sell well, Servais suggested that retailers who intend to add a pizza component to their foodservice focus on perfecting the basics first.
“Everybody likes to get fancy, but it’s important to remember that basic sells; even with all of the different varieties and LTOs, pepperoni or sausage pizza always sell the best,” he said. “For a successful program, execute the basics and do it well.”

Noble Roman’s is the pizza offering at nine of Luke Oil’s 25 stores, including the chain’s proprietary GoLo convenience stores, and the chain is planning to introduce the concept into six more of its locations within the next 12 months, said Tom Collins, owner of the Hobart, Ind.-based chain. For the past five years, seven-inch pizzas have been an integral part of the stores’ grab-and-go foodservice program, which also includes hot sandwiches, fried chicken and appetizers. Pizza accounts for 35% of food sales at the stores. Higher volume stores can sell up to 200-300 pies per day, Collins said.

He chose Noble Roman’s because the brand name was already well established in his Northwest Indiana market area and the program is simple to run.“The equipment is not extensive, the prep is not extensive; there aren’t a lot of moving parts to worry about,” Collins noted. The Noble Roman’s pizza crusts arrive
frozen at the stores where they are topped with fresh ingredients. “One of the biggest challenges with foodservice is controlling waste,” Collins said. “And there’s very little waste with this program.”

Variety Spices Up Pizza Sales
In its recently released consumer trend report on pizza, Technomic researchers found that:
• A third of consumers interviewed said they are interested in trying pizza with highly innovative toppings and themed pizzas or regional options, such as Philly cheesesteak or Buffalo chicken pizza.
• Women, in particular, said they like to have a wide range of vegetable toppings available for their pizza, probably because these toppings add a better-for-you quality to their pizzas.
• Garlic is an especially appealing flavor for pizza sauces. Three of the top four most preferred pizza sauces—tomato or marinara sauce (which is also flavored with garlic), garlic Parmesan, plain garlic and roasted garlic sauce—are garlic-based.
• Most consumers, particularly younger diners, enjoy dipping sauces for their pizza or pizza crust; garlic butter and tomato or marinara sauce are the most appealing varieties.

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