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Pizza Prevails

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Consumers who “discovered” frozen pizza during the pandemic helped drive 20.6% growth since 2019.

Dollar sales of frozen pizza fell 14.5% during the 12 weeks ended April 18 — no surprise given the pandemic-fueled surge in March and April 2020. But compared with the same period in 2019, sales were up a whopping 20.6% to more than $1.39 billion across channels, according to Chicago-based market research firm IRI (iriworldwide.com) Growth is being driven not only by full-size pies for dinner with the family but by single-serve lunchtime offerings for parents working from home and kids learning remotely, says Mike Breitenbach, senior director of category management at Bloomington, Minn.-based Schwan’s Consumer Brands, whose portfolio includes Freschetta, Red Baron and Tony’s. Now that they know what’s available, he adds, “New millennial families shopping the frozen food aisles for the first time [have] become hooked on the quality, convenience and value of frozen pizza.”

PLANT-BASED GOES MAINSTREAM

Much of the recent innovation has been in the premium segment, particularly the better-for-you side where new plant-based varieties continue to roll out. However, most are aimed not at hard-core vegans or radical environmentalists but at the country’s 99.8 million plant-based “intenders” who “just want to feel a little better about their meals, their health and their world,” says chef Sarah Galletti, founder of Paramount, Calif.-based Tattooed Chef (tattooedchef.com). To help bridge the gap, she continues, the company’s new plant-based pizza collection includes five gluten-free varieties that don’t stray too far from the familiar: Veggie, 2 Cheese, White, Pepperoni and Sausage & Pepperoni, the latter two of which feature the company’s proprietary meat alternatives. But as far as plant-based innovation, Galletti says she has only scratched the surface. “We have more than 15 plant-based pizza alternatives in the pipeline that I look forward to sharing in the coming months,” she explains.

FROZEN PIZZA

Sales in supermarkets, drugstores, mass merchants, military commissaries and select club and dollar stores combined for the 12 weeks ended April 18, according to Chicago-based market research firm IRI (iriworldwide.com). Percent change is versus the same period a year ago.

Pittsfield, N.H.-based American Flatbread (americanflatbreadproducts.com) is also casting a broad net with its new Meatless Evolution lineup, though it offers different products for different types of consumers. Introduced last year, the collection includes both plant-based pies with traditional cheese and vegan varieties with non-dairy cheese. “We’re the only brand to offer both meatless options, appealing to a wider variety of consumers,” says founder and president Brad Sterl. Like all American Flatbread pizza, he adds, the new plant-based offerings feature fresh, locally sourced ingredients atop a wood-fired crust made from 100% organically grown wheat, highlighting the demand for plant-based pizza that also offers other key clean label and better-for-you attributes.

Palermo’s adds single-serves to its all-natural Connie’s collection.

For example, San Anselmo, Calif.-based Alex’s Awesome Sourdough (awesomesourdough.com), which already bills itself as the country’s first naturally fermented sourdough pizza, recently debuted Vegan Margherita Pizza made with organic plum tomato sauce and Organic Pepperoni Pizza topped with organic pepperoni (a category first). “We wanted to expand our offerings to all health-conscious consumers so they can reap the benefits of gut-healthy foods,” says founder Alex Corsini.

Other plant-based pizza manufacturers are focusing on more unique toppings. For example, Montreal-based Oggi Foods (oggifoods.com) recently launched a line of plant-based pies featuring Beyond Meat toppings and Good Planet vegan mozzarella that are inspired by different culinarily distinct regions. The two newest additions are the kale-topped California and the jalapeno- and pepper-laden Texan.

Manufacturers in the non-plant-based gluten-free pizza segment are also jumping on regional favorites. Maple Lake, Minn.-based Bernatello’s (bernatellos.com) recently rolled out a line of artisan-crafted vegetable crust pizzas under its Bellatoria brand in flavors like Buffalo Chicken, Chicken Alfredo and Roasted Vegetable with Red Pepper Alfredo Sauce, all on cauliflower parmesan crusts, and Thai Chili Chicken on a sweet potato crust.

Meanwhile, Brooklyn, N.Y.-based Feel Good Foods (feelgf.com) is launching a line of “next level” Detroit-style pizzas that come in their own square cooking tray, creating crispy edges covered in caramelized cheese. “It’s the first and only Detroit-style pizza in the marketplace that’s gluten-free,” says CEO Vanessa Phillips. “But it’s so indulgent and decadent, it will challenge those who think frozen pizza can’t be delicious.” The hand-stretched, stone-baked collection includes three flavors: Truffle Mushroom, Margherita and Four Cheese.

A new gluten-free offering from category leader DiGiorno (digiorno.com) that debuted at Target in April comes with more mainstream toppings (Pepperoni and Four-Cheese), but the fact that the frozen pizza category leader is jumping in points to the potential for significantly more growth in the segment. The brand’s owner, Arlington, Va.-based Nestlé USA, says DiGiorno Gluten Free is the only certified gluten-free frozen pizza featuring a thick, hand-tossed crust and 100% real cheese.

TARGETING UNMET NEEDS IN PREMIUM

Tattooed Chef debuts a plant-based, gluten-free lineup featuring familiar flavors.

Despite all the activity in plant-based and gluten-free, there are still plenty of new entries on the indulgent side of the category as well. In October, Schwan’s debuted Red Baron Stuffed Crust Pizza (redbaron.com) in a fun, rectangular shape that helps meet demand for premium, restaurant-quality products at home — but at a more affordable price. “We really wanted to give consumers the indulgence of extra cheese in the crust while still maintaining the perfect balance of crust to toppings in the center, all at a great value compared to current offerings on the market today,” says marketing manager Brian Thompson. The company also added a Thin Crust line topped with “elevated ingredients” under its Freschetta (freschetta.com) label (Premium Pepperoni, Five Cheese and Garden Veggie) that helps meet increased demand in the premium category, he adds.

But according to Breitenbach, there’s also unmet demand for single-serves. In fact, 17% of consumers only buy single-serves, despite a dearth of high-quality options. “And the segment is becoming even more important as people continue to work from home,” he adds. The good news is single-serves are 38% more productive on a linear shelf basis, providing strong incentive for retailers and manufacturers to expand their offerings.

The most recent entry in the single-serve category comes from Milwaukee-based Palermo’s (palermospizza.com), which launched a new line under its all-natural Connie’s (conniesnaturals.com) brand last month. “We felt there were very few high-quality microwave singles available to consumers and wanted to provide a better solution,” explains the company’s chief product and innovation officer Nick Fallucca. The company also offers single-serves under its Screamin’ Sicilian brand.

FIX THE MIX

Beyond adding more single-serves to the mix, what else can retailers do to capitalize on growing frozen pizza consumption? Breitenbach says proper assortment is key to avoiding out of stocks both in-store and online. “To ensure there’s enough holding power on the shelf to service increased demand in both areas retailers should increase capacity on the largest segments/brands, which are driving category growth.”

Better-for-you remains an important segment, but it’s overspaced, he continues. In fact, the bottom 50% of items in the category, which includes many, better-for-you brands, only contributed 1% to total category growth this year. “So having the right amount of the right SKUs trumps variety…. It’s about having the most productive better-for-you SKUs in full distribution versus having the most better-for-you SKUs in distribution.”

Breitenbach adds that it’s also important for retailers to get the digital shelf right since online frozen pizza sales grew almost four times faster than in-store sales. “So make sure you have the right images, search engine-optimized descriptions, top brands in top spots on the page, etc.”

Denise Leathers

Denise Leathers

Denise is the editor of Frozen & Refrigerated Buyer.

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