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PIZZA DOLLARS EDGE UP 0.5%

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Buoyed by indulgent innovation and new better-for-you offerings, the category holds its own despite declines in unit sales and volume.

The return to cooler weather brought good news for frozen pizza manufacturers. Despite decreases in unit sales and volume, dollars edged up 0.5% during

Screamin’ Sicilian adds a pair of decadent dessert pies.

the 12 weeks ended Oct. 3 to nearly $1.33 billion across channels, according to Chicago-based market research firm IRI (iriworldwide.com).

Besides a renewed willingness to turn on the oven, manufacturers see several reasons why pizza sales are getting a bump. “Convenience has been a major factor in category growth,” says Nick Fallucca, chief product and innovation officer for Milwaukee-based Palermo Villa (palermovillainc.com), maker of the Palermo’s, Screamin’ Sicilian, Urban Pie and Connie’s brands. “We have seen a resurgence in the popularity of single-serve options, as many consumers have been working from home and kids have been remote learning.”

The pandemic made eating pizza a ritual as much as a convenience for many families. “Even as a bit of normalcy returns, we see that frozen pizza continues to grow because it provides a delicious, all-family meal solution,” says John Reaves, CEO of Milton’s Craft Bakers (miltons
craftbakers.com), Carlsbad, Calif. “Pizza night is growing as a weekly tradition for friends and families to gather and share good times.”

Manufacturers continue to create novel offerings, which may be tempting consumers to try new products. “I think we are seeing a lot of attempts at innovation with what I would call fusion pizzas: pizzas blending regional cuisines and international cuisines; fusion crusts such as stuffed crusts and croissant crusts; fusion meals like dessert pizzas and mac and cheese pizza; and vegetarian pizzas that are traditional cheese pizzas topped with vegan meats,” says Nancy Cain, co-founder of Against the Grain Gourmet in Brattleboro, Vt. (againstthegraingourmet.com).

homebound consumers seek ‘adventure’

Dave Portnoy of Barstool Sports fame brings his One Bite concept to retail with a frozen lineup produced by Happi Foodi.

Fallucca sees a similar trend developing, where home-weary consumers are looking for both adventurous and more indulgent foods. Screamin’ Sicilian’s new line of dessert pizzas hits both buttons. S’mores Dessert Pizza features a thin crust covered in fudge sauce, graham crackers and marshmallows while Cookie Brownie Dessert Pizza boasts a thin crust smothered with cream cheese sauce, cookie dough and brownie bites (it also comes with a packet of caramel sauce that can be drizzled over the top after it’s baked).

For those seeking something new on the savory side, Screamin’ Sicilian also introduced both Spinach Artichoke Dip and Bacon Mac N’ Cheese pizzas. The former features spinach, artichoke pieces, four cheeses, an Italian seasoning blend and a crème fraiche sauce while the latter is topped with bacon, macaroni, mozzarella, yellow cheese and a cheddar cheese sauce.

‘Home-weary consumers are looking for both adventurous and more indulgent foods.’

In a similar move, Nestlé-owned DiGiorno (goodness.com), Arlington, Va., recently announced plans to release an Original Rising Crust Mac & Cheese Pizza this coming spring. Made with Stouffer’s-inspired mac and cheese atop a classic DiGiorno crust, the product “taps into the rising trend of food mashups, which are prevalent across food categories, including frozen,” says brand manager Kimberly Holowiak. “Pizza and mac and cheese are two all-time favorites, so we decided to up the ante on these well-known comfort foods to create a truly unique tasting experience.”

Another new entry in the indulgent segment comes from Barstool Sports, whose founder and president Dave Portnoy found internet fame with his One Bite pizza review series. Created in conjunction with Happi Foodi (happifoodi.com), Secaucus, N.J., the One Bite, Everybody Knows the Rules collection includes four flavors: 5 Cheese, Pepperoni, 3 Meat and Supreme.

Plant based, better-for-you going strong

At the other end of the spectrum, frozen pizza is also doing a good job of addressing shoppers’ health and dietary concerns, which is helping to drive new purchases. “One of the macro trends we’re seeing is the movement toward positive nutrition — meaning the presence of positives versus just absence of negatives in food,” says Reaves. “Consumers are looking for ways to get more good in.” When possible, however, they like to do that with “better for you” foods that are familiar and comforting.

In fact, “better for you” is the fastest-growing segment in frozen pizza, according to Brian Thompson, marketing manager for Bloomington, Minn.-based Schwan’s Consumer Brands, maker of the Freschetta (freschetta.com) brand. To help meet growing demand, he adds, Schwan’s plans to add a Margherita flavor to both its Freschetta Gluten Free and Thin Crust lineups and a Roasted Garlic variety to its Freschetta Thin Crust collection next spring.

Consumers still have a strong desire to reduce their carbohydrate intake while still enjoying the foods they love, so low-carb crusts continue to be popular,

Banza expands its chickpea crust collection with Beyond Meat sausage-topped Supreme and Plant-Based Cheese varieties.

explains Mike Breitenbach, vp of customer development and sales strategy at Schwan’s.

Higher-protein foods are still a trend as well. Consumers focused on increasing protein intake have an ally in New York-based Banza (eatbanza.com). In September, the brand expanded its lineup of high-protein, high-fiber chickpea pizzas with two new options: Supreme, a vegetarian spin on the traditional version that features Beyond Sausage Italian Crumbles, and Plant-Based Cheese, a vegan pie made with Follow Your Heart dairy-free cheese.

“Banza Pizza was the first frozen chickpea crust to market, and these new options are the first time we’re adding plant-based alternatives to our crust,” says CEO and co-founder Brian Rudolph. Plant-based foods also tie into some consumers’ values around enjoying a diet with a lower carbon footprint.

Bryan Freeman, executive chairman of Glendale, Calif.-based Real Good Foods (realgoodfoods.com), says plant-based products are the fastest-growing segment within frozen pizza. “While we’ve known over the years that consumers have been demanding healthier alternatives for doughy pizza crusts that avoid unnecessary flours and sugars, the rise in vegetarianism and veganism has had a direct impact on the demand for plant-based meat and cheese alternatives.”

With that in mind, Real Good Foods partnered with Beyond Meat to launch Real Good Foods Beyond Pizza. The crust is made with cauliflower and is 100% grain free, low carbohydrate and high protein. The pie is topped with plant-based sausage.

DON’T SACRIFICE TASTE

What can retailers do on their end to keep the category growing? It all starts with ensuring products actually taste good — even in the better-for-you segment. “In the natural and organic category, I would argue that we have sacrificed taste and indulgence for dietary trends,” says Cain. “Every year, new companies enter the category with innovative new pizza concepts. Not all of them are necessarily better-for-you, nor are they good value. Particularly in the natural and organic category, consumers want a choice in crusts and toppings, [both] conventional and innovative flavors.” Offering both quality and choice is key to keeping sales high.

Freeman believes some old-fashioned market research can help stores figure out what products they need to carry. “Retailers and producers need to listen to their customers and take note of their dietary needs,” he says. “People want to feel good about what they’re eating but also need easy and convenient meals that won’t break the bank. The more variety you have, the better chance of seeing category growth,” particularly if new offerings can bring incremental shoppers into the category.

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