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Trend report: Americans are eating pizza, and a lot of it

4 min read

Restaurant and Foodservice

(Photo: Flickr user Mark H. Anbinder)

What are consumers consuming? Pizza — and a lot of it. Every week, two out of three Americans eat pizza. In fact, the average consumer purchases pizza away-from-home (at a restaurant, fast food outlet, cafeteria, etc.) five times a month — more than once a week.

For Datassential‘s newest MenuTrends Keynote report, we decided to dive deep into this consumer favorite. What types of pizza are they eating, where are they eating it, and what are the barriers that keep them from choosing pizza? We also took a comprehensive look at growing pizza trends, from toppings to crusts to rapidly-growing flatbreads.

Americans love meat

Consumers can’t get enough pepperoni pizza. Pepperoni pizza was the highest rated of the varieties we tested, loved by 47% of consumers. And they are voting with their wallets — among consumers who had eaten a pizza within the past two weeks, 40% chose a pepperoni pizza, with sausage a distant second, chosen by 16% of consumers. But overall meat pizzas are the overwhelming choice for most consumers — meat lovers, supreme and sausage were all top choices, both in pure likability and recent purchases.

Which meat varieties may become the topping favorites of the future? Some of the fastest-growing topping options over the past year are cotto ham, up 61% over last year, pepper bacon and pancetta. Quick-service restaurants are taking inspiration from other trends and dishes, adding pulled proteins like pork or chicken or Philly steak to pizzas, while independents are incorporating unique flavor profiles like confited proteins, reflecting the importance of “premium” toppings in differentiating pizzas.

Thinking outside the pizza box

Crusts are also getting an update, with everything from skinny versions to pretzel crusts providing an on-trend base. In fact, 46% of consumers said that a truly great pizza starts with having a truly great crust. The most popular MegaTrend we tested was also crust-related — 30% of consumers were interested in wood-fired or coal-fired pizzas, speaking to the growing popularity of authentic, Neapolitan-style pizza. Pizza Hut‘s recently-unveiled menu overhaul features eight different crust flavors, from classics like toasted parmesan to more in-your-face flavors like honey sriracha.

Trendy flatbreads are also shaking up the pizza category, moving the dish into new menu parts and utilizing more unusual ingredients. In just the past few months, major chains have released seasonal flatbread limited-time-offerings like the turkey cranberry flatbread at Baker’s Square, innovative appetizers like the Fig & Pig Flatbread at  Noodles & Company, and even desserts, like the Sangria Flatbread at Bonefish Grill, topping a brioche flatbread with berry sangria preserves, mascarpone cheese, candied pecans and creamy wine custard sauce.

Flatbreads have markedly different ingredient and flavor profiles. According to the report, premium toppings like beef tenderloin, havarti cheese and tomato aioli are 10 times more common on flatbread pizzas. Generally, high-end proteins, like ahi tuna, filet mignon and duck confit, are far more likely to show up on flatbreads, as are globally-inspired sauces like chimichurri and harissa.

Success at retail

Regardless of the day part, whether it’s a breakfast pizza or late night snack, most consumers are purchasing ready-to-eat pizzas at restaurants and other away-from-home locations. According to the report, pizza manufacturers still have some barriers to overcome to entice consumers to purchase more retail pizza options, whether they are frozen, take-and-bake, or made-from-scratch/speed-scratch varieties or options. Again, crust was top-of-the-mind for many consumers, who expressed frustration with tough or chewy crusts and microwaved pizzas lacking in crispness. But consumers also said generous toppings, more interesting varieties and coupons/deals would drive more retail purchases.

A changing market

For the pizza market, there are almost certainly more changes ahead, particularly as new, innovative toppings and flavors continue to grow and a wider variety of operators menu flatbreads. A number of fast casual pizza brands, like Blaze and 800 Degrees, are also aiming to transform the market, offering more customization and premium ingredients, in order to become the “Chipotle of pizza.” And Pizza Hut’s total brand and menu revamp is big on bold flavors and trendy ingredients, like Peruvian cherry peppers and reduced balsamic drizzles, aimed directly at millennials.

This is just a small slice of insights we uncovered in this nearly 200-page comprehensive overview of pizza and flatbreads, detailing consumer behavior, motivations, preferences and more, and covering everything from cheeses to sauces to breakfast pizza to gluten-free varieties.

Maeve Webster is the senior director of Datassential, a supplier of trends, analysis and concept testing for the food industry. For more information about ordering the MenuTrends Keynote Pizza Report, contact Brian Darr at brian@datassential.com or 312-655-0594.

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