Convenience and Versatility Power Pizza

More Americans than ever are eating pizza, according to data from consumer research firm Technomic. A full 41% of respondents to a Technomic survey said that they now eat pizza at least once a week, up from 26% two years ago.

Howard Riell, Associate Editor.

Americans’ love affair with pizza isn’t likely to end any time soon.

That said, the issue becomes how to best present the category in order to maximize sales opportunities. For many chains, partnering with a branded program has been their top priority because it takes a lot of the guesswork out of the equation.  Plus, recognizable brands resonate with consumers.

Americans continue to choose pizza at an impressive rate. According to Chicago-based research and consulting firm Technomic Inc., 41% of consumers polled said that they are now eating pizza once a week, compared to 26% only two years ago.

Consumers who are feeling the financial pinch are attracted to the special offers and coupons, said Technomic Executive Vice President Darren Tristano. Combo-meat varieties and calzone-style stuffed pizzas stand out as growth areas, as do veggie/garden and combo-meat pizzas.

Expanding the Menu
Marty Mylor, president and owner of  Sparta Quik Stop stores in Sparta, Ky., has worked with Hunt Brothers Pizza for more than 25 years. In addition to the turn-key nature of the program, he said he likes the limited-time menu additions it offers throughout the year.

Specialty offerings, such as the Philly cheesesteak pizza, have proven extremely popular in helping battle menu fatigue and jumpstarting sales during peak periods, maximizing sales. The limited-run generally lasts for up to three months. The addition of chicken wings to the mix only heightens the consumer response.

Another successful limited-time menu addition was Hunt Brothers’ Buffalo chicken pizza, which is rolled out each January in time for the football playoffs. It contains white meat chicken topped with ranch dressing, Buffalo sauce and mozzarella and Monterey Jack cheese.

Mylor bundles the foodservice offerings—various combinations of pizza, wings, chips and soft drinks—and offers discounts, yet another incentive for customers.

“I think a system like Hunt Brothers does make sense in a convenience store setting that lacks proper kitchen facilities and ovens, and where the employees would not have the time or the skills to prepare their own fresh dough every morning and do all the necessary prep work for pizza making,” said Rick Hynum, editor of PMQ Pizza Magazine. “From the customer’s point of view, if he’s in a hurry, convenience store pizza works just fine and it beats the heck out of a bag of chips. If you’re a convenience store owner and you’ve got the opportunity to sell some version of pizza, why wouldn’t you do it? It’s the world’s most popular food.”
Individuality is important, according to foodservice consultant Greg Christian, CEO and founder of Beyond Green Foodservice Consultants, and for 17 years the owner and executive chef of Greg Christian Catering. “The good thing about any plug-in pizza program is that once you find a trusted partner it’s an easy program to implement,” he said.

Arlene Spiegel, a veteran foodservice consultant and president of Arlene Spiegel & Associates, breaks down the pluses and minuses of turn-key pizza operations in general this way: Turn-key programs are good for inexperienced operators because systems and protocols are set, the supplier network is in place and successful locations can be modeled.

Among the negatives, Spiegel said, is relatively little ability to customize the products or the experience, and that could be somewhat limiting for more experienced operators or in markets where customers crave variety.

Pizza Expectations
Consumers increasingly view pizza as the ‘go-to’ food when they don’t feel like cooking. “Operators can emphasize convenience in their marketing message, positioning pizza as an easy, convenient and affordable meal solution that will appeal to an entire group or family. It’s a message that resonates with many customers,” Tristano said.

As such, pizza is as popular as ever. “It’s very affordable and convenient for the consumer, it’s one of the few foods that kids and adults love equally, and it’s available in all kinds of varieties—from the high-dollar Neapolitan style pizzas to mobile units with pizza ovens in their trailers to take-and-bake to plain cheese slices for a buck or a buck-fifty a slice,” said Hynum.

A major development to look out for in the next year or so, Hynum reported, is the government’s requirement that pizzerias and restaurants serving pizza provide nutrition labeling info for their pizzas. When this requirement was first announced, many in the industry balked, saying that it would be extremely difficult to come up with accurate nutritional information for all of the numerous varieties of pizza.

This rule hasn’t been implemented yet, as the government tries to figure out a way to accommodate the pizza industry while still fulfilling, at least, the spirit of the law.

In response, the three biggest pizza chains, Pizza Hut, Domino’s and Papa John’s, have teamed up, along with a growing number of smaller chains and independents, to form an organization called the American Pizza Community, which is now representing the pizza industry in discussions with congressional leaders to work out this problem. Certainly, should a regulation be implemented, it would be applied to c-stores serving pizza, as well.

“People like to say a c-store pizza customer is similar to a ‘pizza store’ customer, and the only way to drive sales is by having a unique and specialty pizza solution,” said consultant James Sinclair of OnSite Consulting Inc. in Los Angeles. “This is just flat out not true. A c-store requires by its very nature—unless it is subbing out part of its footprint to this pizza experience—that it must fall within the business model of replicatable results and a great product.”

While Sinclair is not suggesting that large slabs of dough with some sauce is enough, he is suggesting that c-store operators need to be less concerned about individual pizza innovation and more on the overall traffic drive and programming. “A c-store has a real ability to take revenue out of the standard restaurant by delivering a consistent, good tasting, good value product that is not a grease ball, but these c-store operators adding wood stone pizza ovens are not c-stores anymore, they are pizza stores that also sell
convenience products,” he added.

Operators need to understand what they are and where their revenue comes from.

“C-stores should recognize and understand that adding a sprinkle of basil does not make you artisan,” Sinclair warned. “If you want to steal share from the restaurant industry then convenience remains the key. I love the idea of a c-store being split into a c-store and restaurant, but you have to be aware of what you are doing. Foodservice is not a part-time novelty. If you are going to do it, especially in a convenience store, you have to do it right.”


Fun Facts About Pizza

According to, there are approximately 61,269 pizzerias in the U.S. All told, about three billion pizzas are sold annually in the U.S. Other facts about pizza sales include:
• The average pizzeria uses roughly 55 pizza boxes per day.
• Americans consume around 251.7 million pounds of pepperoni on pizza every year.
• 94% of Americans eat pizza regularly and 93% have eaten pizza in the last month.
• K
ids ages 3-11 prefer pizza over all other food groups for lunch and dinner.
• The top five pizza sales days are Super Bowl Sunday, New Year’s Eve, Halloween, the night before Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day.
• Domino’s delivery drivers alone log about four million miles on Super Bowl Sunday.


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