A popular alternative to takeout, premium frozen pizza helped drive 14.1% category dollar growth (and limit unit losses).
Despite price increases that drove dollar sales up 14.1% to $1.59 billion across channels, unit sales of frozen pizza fell only 1.3% during the 12 weeks ended Jan. 1 (versus the same period a year ago), according to Chicago-based market research firm IRI (iriworldwide.com). Why did the category fare so much better than the frozen department as a whole, which saw its unit sales tumble 4.5%?
‘Shoppers are looking for value right now, so it’s essential to provide a quality product at a competitive price.’
As inflation rages on, “Consumers may be stepping back from restaurants and opting for better quality frozen pizza at home,” explains Brad Sterl, president and CEO of Pittsfield, N.H.-based American Flatbread. While it may seem odd that cash-strapped shoppers are opting for premium brands, manufacturers say consumers are willing to stay home, but they’re not willing to sacrifice quality.
Thanks to pandemic out-of-stocks, shoppers also grew accustomed to trying unique new flavors, adds Season Chavez, president of Albuquerque, N.M.-based WisePies. And they’re not willing to give that up, either.
STILL A GREAT VALUE VS. CARRYOUT
The good news is even a high-end frozen pizza can often be had for a fraction of the price of carryout or restaurant options, says Nick Fallucca, chief product and innovation officer at Milwaukee-based Palermo Villa, maker of the top-10 Screamin’ Sicilian brand. To meet continued demand for premium pizza that can be enjoyed at home, the company recently added two upscale flavors to its artisan thin crust Urban Pie lineup. Described as a more “flavor-forward” veggie option than is currently available in the category, the Roasted Veggie Goat Cheese variety comes with a packet of balsamic drizzle so consumers can customize to taste, while Truffle Mushroom taps into the burgeoning mushroom trend.
‘Consumers may be stepping back from restaurants and opting for better quality frozen pizza at home.’
At the other end of the crust thickness spectrum, New Boston, Mich. -based Champion Foods is launching a new Ultimate Supreme variety of its Motor City Pizza Co. Detroit-style deep dish pizza. Available exclusively at select Costco locations, the new SKU combines two existing flavors, Supreme and Ultimate Meat, into a single pizza “loaded with meat and veggies” for an over-the-top indulgent eating experience, says Peter Smith, director of marketing and brand strategy. “Shoppers are looking for value right now, so it’s essential to provide a quality product at a competitive price,” he adds.
Brian Thompson, senior marketing manager at Bloomington, Minn.-based Schwan’s Consumer Brands couldn’t agree more, pointing to the company’s creation of the craft-quality Hearth & Fire brand last year. “We realized that a barrier for many consumers when it comes to frozen pizza is that they don’t feel like the quality and taste are up to par with their favorite craft pizzeria offerings,” he explains. “We launched Hearth & Fire aiming to meet the high standards set by ‘real food fans’ who…haven’t yet found a pizza that delivers on their criteria for truly premium quality and taste.” The collection includes four flavors (The Margherita, The Pepperoni, The Bianca and The Mushroom) all of which are built on a unique crust fermented for at least 20 hours and then cooked at high temps on an open fire, giving it a unique flavor and texture.
The new Grilled & Seared lineup from American Flatbread also boasts a cool crust created using the company’s own sourdough recipe. Char-grilled, topped and then baked in a wood-fired oven, the collection was developed after repeated questions from consumers about how to prepare American Flatbread pizza on the grill, says Sterl. The line debuted last fall with three flavors (Tuscan Margherita, Greek Isle and Truffle Fromage), but retailers should look for additional Grilled & Seared SKUs featuring different dough styles as well as some snacking items “unique to the category” later this year.
Another new lineup to watch for comes from WisePies, whose “bold, protein-forward” Chop’d collection continues to find new distribution. The company also added a new Hatch Green Chile Chicken Fredo variety to its flagship range. “It will soon be your favorite white pizza,” says Chavez, highlighting the growing popularity of alternative sauces.
CAULIFLOWER SEGMENT GETS SAUCY
New sauce types are also making news in the better-for-you cauliflower crust segment where Milton’s Craft Bakers, Carlsbad, Calif., is launching a Grilled Chicken & Garlic variety featuring a zesty red pepper sauce. “It’s truly differentiated in the category and reflects consumers’ growing desire for products with a bit of spice,” says CEO John Reaves. “The category will always be anchored by red and white sauce classics,” he adds. “But we wanted to introduce a gluten-free pizza that not only gives consumers a unique, savory sauce with a hint of heat but also provides a clean, high quality protein.”
‘We’re still seeing better-for-you over-spaced relative to performance.’
Palermo’s is also adding protein-topped cauliflower crust varieties to its Urban Pie lineup, reports Fallucca, citing a dearth of “more satiating, meat-forward” options in a segment dominated by Margherita and cheese flavors. The newcomers include Pepperoni with fresh mozzarella; Special with pepperoni, Italian sausage, peppers and onions; and Italian Sausage with caramelized onions.
For consumers seeking meat-free varieties, Naples, Italy-based Talia di Napoli recently debuted a certified vegan Margherita flavor featuring a handmade sourdough crust, signature Pomodoro sauce and vegan mozzarella. The company is also launching a gluten-free Eggplant Parm variety. Both new additions are cryogenically frozen straight out of the oven to preserve freshness and flavor during shipment to the United States.
While the category has welcomed plenty of new better-for-you brands lately, the founder and president of Montreal-based Oggi Foods, Stefano Cataldo, believes there’s still plenty of room for growth in the segment. Given growing consumer demand for higher quality, “Retailers should be stocking more premium and better-for-you options and featuring them more prominently,” he says.
But Schwan’s Thompson suggests category managers proceed with caution. “We’re still seeing better-for-you over-spaced relative to performance,” he explains. “Our recommendation is to maximize space allocation for brands with proven success in the category and new brands with encouraging performances, while casting a critical eye on the proliferation of new entrants into this segment.” He adds that while innovation continues to play an important role, “It’s critical that retailers are able to discern which items might be exciting limited time offerings and which ones are likely to become new category mainstays — and then allocate space and resources accordingly. Newness drives excitement and category engagement, but not all innovation is deserving of a permanent spot on the shelf.”
Whatever the assortment, Champion Foods’ Smith says co-promotions can help increase awareness among new audiences. “Cross-merchandising with complementary products like beer, soda and snacks is a great way to drive additional sales.”