PIZZA GOES PREMIUM

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But unlike last year, more indulgent offerings are outgaining better-for-you.

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Consumers suffering from “cooking fatigue” but still not comfortable eating out several times a week continue to drive growth of “the original meal kit”: frozen pizza. During the 12 weeks ended Oct. 4, unit sales jumped 9.5% (versus the same period a year ago) to 325.82 million across channels, according to Chicago-based market research firm IRI (iriworldwide.com). However, dollars shot up 17.8% to $1.29 billion, reflecting a 30 cent increase in average price per unit compared to last year that stems partly from a decrease in promotion (volume sold with promotional support fell 5.2 percentage points versus the same period a year ago to 31.5%).

Red Baron Stuffed Crust Pizza offers premium quality at a more affordable price.

An even bigger driver of higher retails is frozen pizza’s continued “premiumization,” reports Mike Breitenbach, senior director of category management at Bloomington, Minn.-based Schwan’s Consumer Brands (schwanscompany.com), which owns Red Baron, Freschetta and Tony’s. But unlike 2019 when premium growth was driven by better-for-you products, he explains, more “conventional” premium offerings (i.e. indulgent) are leading the charge this year as consumers seek out inexpensive ways to treat themselves.

“Our belief is that brands that best replicate the pizzeria experience at home are the ones that are benefitting most from COVID-19,” confirms Kap Maksian, East Coast sales director for Clackamas, Ore.-based Wild Mike’s (wildmikesultimatepizza.com). As the pandemic rages on and unemployment rises, he adds, “More people will be looking to replace the $15 to $20 pie from their local House of Pizza with a frozen product that tastes just as good but is much more affordable.”

MANUFACTURERS DELIVER ON NEW NEEDS

To meet that demand, manufacturers like Schwan’s are focusing R&D efforts on premium, restaurant-quality products that also offer excellent value, reports marketing manager Brian Thompson, citing the company’s new Red Baron Stuffed Crust Pizza as an example. “In the past, frozen pizza consumers have had only one, maybe two brands of stuffed crust to choose from,” he explains. “So we decided to put our own spin on a favorite crust type… but at a lower price point than they’re used to seeing.” Offered in a “fun and different” rectangular shape, the new addition combines a classic interior crust with a melty mozzarella-filled, breadstick-like outer crust. Available flavors include Pepperoni, Four Cheese and Meat Trio.

Banza introduces what it says is the first-ever frozen pizza made with a chickpea crust.

Milwaukee-based Palermo’s (palermospizza.com) is also jumping on the affordable-premium trend with a recent relaunch of its 30-year-old Rising Crust lineup. Offered in nine different varieties, including a couple of outliers (think Hawaiian Style, Bacon Cheeseburger and Chicken Bacon Ranch), the reformulated pies boast a better-tasting, more flavorful crust and a half-pound or more of premium toppings, including real bacon on the Four Meat option. Available for just $5 at Walmart, “They’re perfect for budget-conscious families seeking a great tasting, convenient meal solution,” says chief product and innovation officer Nick Falluca.

Manufacturers’ affnity for new products that feature unique crusts rather than unusual toppings is playing out on the better-for-you side as well. For example, Palermo’s debuted a line of functional hemp seed crust pizzas under its clean label Urban Pie brand. And Livingston, Calif.-based Foster Farms (fosterfarms.com) launched a collection of lowcarb, high-protein pizzas built on a keto-certified crust made with chicken breast, egg whites and cheese. But the newest alternative crust rollout comes from New York-based Banza (eatbanza.com), which just introduced the “first-ever” frozen pizza made with a chickpea crust.

Available in three ready-to-eat varieties (Margherita, Roasted Veggie and Four Cheese) — plus Plain for consumers who prefer to build to their own — Banza pies offer more protein and fiber, fewer net carbs and less sodium than leading traditional (wheat-based) and better-for-you (cauliflower-based) frozen pizzas, says co-founder and CEO Brian Rudolph.

NEW PLANT-BASED ENTRIES KEEP COMING

Another new better-for-you crust option, made with butternut squash, comes from Montreal-based gluten-free pizza maker Oggi Foods (oggifoods.com). But according to the company’s co-founders, president Joe Turturici and director of operations Stefano Cataldo, cauliflower remains by far the most popular alternative crust — and also serves as the base for the company’s new 100% plant-based, certified gluten-free lineup. Created in partnership with Beyond Meat and Good Planet Foods, the vegan collection rolled out in January with two SKUs: Americana and Siciliana. Coming soon is the California, topped with Beyond Sausage Italian Crumbles, vegan mozzarella, kale and red onion. A fourth plant-based variety, the Texan, will be built on Oggi’s flagship Neapolitan crust (also vegan and gluten-free) and feature Beyond Beef Feisty Crumbles, vegan mozzarella, bell peppers, jalapenos and red onion.

Despite the buzz around plant-based, not all new entries in the segment are better for you — or the planet — says Nancy Cain, co-founder and owner of gluten-free food manufacturer Against the Grain (againstthegraingourmet.com), Brattleboro, Vt. To give consumers a truly healthy choice, the company recently introduced a 12-inch Veggie Vegan variety (the 10-inch version is called “Cheddar Style”) free of engineered “cheese” or “meat.” “It’s gluten- and grain-free with no vegetable or protein isolates and no cellulose or added fibers to bulk it up,” says Cain. “It really is a vegetable pizza made with ingredients found in your pantry.”

Another uber-clean new addition to the category comes from Edina, Minn.-based Clo-Clo Vegan Foods (clocloveganfoods.com). Free of the top food allergens, the non-GMO, plant-based lineup features a veggie-infused, gluten-free crust and patent-pending cauliflower-based cheese “that represents a significant advancement in quality, flavor and texture,” says co-founder and vp of marketing Wendy Hinnenkamp, whose daughter Chloe provided the inspiration for the collection.

Due to an auto-immune disease, she explains, Chloe has to avoid a variety of common ingredients. “But she wouldn’t eat the vegan pizzas we tried to serve due to their poor taste and texture,” prompting the Hinnenkamps to partner with award-winning chef Robert Velarde to create a safe, nutritious — and environmentally friendly — frozen pizza that the whole family could enjoy. The new line includes Cheese, Meatless Italian Sausage, Meatless Pepperoni, Margherita and Mediterranean varieties. A plain crust two-pack is also available.

TIME TO FIX THE MIX?

The Clo-Clo collection is currently available at Sprouts, which Hinnenkamp says dedicates 35% of its frozen pizza set to plant-based. “We hope to see more grocers continue this trend,” she adds. However, other manufacturers believe that’s too much space — at least in the conventional channel.

While it remains an important part of the category, “Better-for-you is overspaced,” says Schwan’s Breitenbach, who’d rather see more room for top-sellers. “The bottom 50% of items in the category only contributed 3% to total category growth this year,” he explains. So for at least as long as pandemic-related out-of-stocks persist, “Having the right amount of the right SKUs trumps variety.”

FROZEN PIZZA

Sales in supermarkets, drugstores, mass merchants, military commissaries and select club and dollar stores combined for the 12 weeks ended Oct. 4, 2020, according to Chicago-based market research fi rm IRI (iriworldwide.com). Percent change is versus the same period a year ago.

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Pizza Goes Premium
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Denise Leathers

Denise Leathers

Denise is the editor of Frozen & Refrigerated Buyer.

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