Deep dish dive: Pizza insights you need to know

Across the US, pizza has many forms: from humble, nourishing Neapolitan slices to indulgent portions of deep-dish to innovative, customizable whole pies baked and delivered within minutes of a placed order. Pizza has reached beyond its Italian roots and become an American obsession: two-thirds of consumers have eaten it in the last week, and 20% of millennials have had a slice within the past day. With over 67,000 pizza restaurants across the country and a multitude of ways to prepare pies at home, it’s easy for American consumers to feed this obsession.

Beyond dinner and delivery

Though consumers most often order pizza for takeout or delivery around dinnertime, there are numerous opportunities for growth outside the dinner daypart – since 2007, pizza has grown by 98% on breakfast and brunch menus. Today an array of operators are taking inspiration from the trending morning daypart to refresh ubiquitous pizza concepts – think next-level flavors such as California Pizza Kitchen's globally-inspired huevos rancheros breakfast pizza made with scrambled eggs, spicy chorizo, enchilada sauce, cotija cheese and sliced avocado.

Additionally, the home kitchen has become a more exciting space for pizza occasions in recent years as take-and-bake pizzas and speed-scratch ingredients like dough balls become readily available in supermarkets. For consumers, at-home pizza creation is not only affordable and convenient but can also be a collaborative activity that affords more control over ingredients and toppings. All this is to say that there’s value for operators in leveraging these emerging occasions beyond traditional spaces and dayparts.

Customization is key for pizza creation

In Datassential’s issue of “International Concepts: Pizza,” we referred to pizza as a “blank canvas” for flavors, ingredients and toppings, and indeed, our report reveals that pizza as a build-your-own concept inspires creativity in both operators and consumers alike. As part of the research for the pizza report, consumers participated in a pizza ordering simulator in which they were given the option to build their own pizza, customizing everything from crust type to sauces to toppings.

While classics like pepperoni, sausage and mushrooms are the most popular overall, the simulator revealed that men are more likely to gravitate towards premium or indulgent proteins like pork belly, while women skew towards lighter options such as grilled chicken and spinach. Trend-forward ingredients like pickled vegetables, organic sauces and ancient grain crusts are appealing to over a third of consumers – more so for millennials than other generations.

Importantly, consumers are willing to pay extra for these trendy ingredients; around a third of consumers are drawn to these premium options regardless of whether or not they carried an additional upcharge. Balancing well-loved pizza options with a few trend-forward additions sprinkled in will be critical for operators looking to appeal to a wide variety of consumers.

Pizza preferences from region to region

Every region of the country carries its own distinctive food culture – indeed, consumers from different regions display unique preferences for pizza flavors and varieties.

In the Midwest, thin-crust pizza and Chicago deep dish are prevalent, while Sicilian and Neapolitan varieties hold a stronger presence in the Northeast. Meanwhile, consumers in the West prefer lighter pizzas focused on fresh ingredients, such as margherita and California-style pizza.

Pizza markets also display regional differences when it comes to the split between independent pizzerias and small or national chains: although around 70% of the pizza restaurants in many Northeastern cities are independent, national chains reign supreme in several Southern metro areas. In general, regional differences lead to unique distinctions in consumer ordering patterns as well as consumer affinity for flavors, ingredients and toppings.

It's worth taking note of these various regional pizza varieties as leveraging them can go a long way toward connecting with local consumers and offering out-of-towners an authentic experience (what’s visiting Chicago without trying out some deep dish?).

Ultimately, the pizza landscape is steeped in well-loved traditions and habits, from the way consumers order pizza to the varieties they savor. A vital avenue to the future of pizza lies in keeping these traditions at heart, while also tapping into emerging opportunities to make pizza more exciting, convenient and customizable. For more ways to realize these opportunities, ask about our full report.

Huy Do is a publications intern at Datassential, a supplier of trends, analysis, and concept testing for the food industry. To purchase our Pizza Keynote or International Concepts: Pizza, both of which are mentioned in the article, contact Datassential managing director Brian Darr at brian.darr@datassential.com.

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