KANSAS CITY - Despite COVID’s impact, the pizza category has held its own in the grocery perimeter, said Trey Pick, associate brand manager for Hormel Deli Solutions, a division of Austin, Minn.-based Hormel Foods.

“We’ve seen demand for pizza staying steady or growing in the deli prepared foods area, even as the current situation has changed consumer shopping habits,” Pick said.

That said, the impact of the pandemic is real. Many retailers that served pizza by the slice or made to order pizzas shifted to more of a take and bake pizza model, Pick said. And retailers that had a more established take and bake pizza program pre-COVID-19 are continuing to see great demand.

When it comes to current trends in the pizza world as a whole, two stand out to Pick.

One, pepperoni remains the king of pizza toppings and has seen growth in the prepared foods category throughout the pandemic. Fortunately for Hormel, Pick said, the company has a huge portfolio of pepperoni solutions.

“Everything from lay flat pepperoni to cup and char pepperoni, all in several varieties, flavor profiles, sizes, and slice thicknesses,” he said. “We are also continually sourcing consumer insights and innovating in this space to stay ahead of upcoming consumer trends.”

The second big trend Hormel is tracking is the willingness of retailers to get creative to elevate their pizza offerings with differentiated toppings — everything from globally inspired pizzas to “out of the box” toppings like chorizo, sliced meatballs, prosciutto, or pulled pork.

Hormel’s pizza solutions for grocery prepared foods sections includes products from both the company’s Hormel and Fontanini brands.

“We offer solutions to help retailers enhance their current offerings or even create a complete and customizable pizza program,” Pick said. “We are a leader in the pizza toppings category and offer a vast portfolio of pepperoni, Italian Sausage topping, bacon topping, Canadian Bacon and beef and chicken toppings.”

Hormel’s pizza program has changed in three significant ways in recent years, Pick said.

The acquisition of Fontanini in 2017 gave Hormel one of the top brands in premium pizza toppings, with a reputation for quality and flavor that Pick calls second to none.  

Two, Hormel has added a variety of new pepperoni with elevated flavor profiles – both in lay flat and cup-and-char varieties.

And finally, the company has continued to innovate its pizza toppings portfolio to ensure it has a pizza topping to meet any consumer or retailer needs or preferences.

“From our classic Hormel pizza toppings to our premium Fontanini Italian Meats, as well as the natural line of Applegate pizza toppings and our latest Happy Little Plants plant-based pizza toppings, we have the broad and on-trend portfolio of products to meet the needs of any retailer or consumer,” Pick said.

Better cheese, please

Green Bay, Wis.-based BelGioioso Cheese, Inc. has also seen an increase in prepared foods sales and, as a result, the company believes the demand for pizza sold in the grocery/deli area has increased as well, said Sean Moran, vice president of sales and marketing.

More flavor from high quality ingredients is a trend that continues to be effective for deli/prepared departments’ pizza offerings, Moran said.

“We continue to promote our full line of award-winning artisan cheeses which perform perfectly on pizzas,” he said. “We recently introduced a low moisture mozzarella blend that we believe pizza operators will love.”

The new Secret Pizza Blend, as the product is known, is a combination of mozzarella with a hint of parmesan — what Moran characterizes as a “go-to flavor combination” used by many of today’s best pizzamakers. It’s available pre-shredded in 5-pound foodservice bags and in 10 oz. retail cups.

BelGioioso’s full lineup of cheeses for pizza includes Fresh Mozzarella and a creamy Platinum Label Low Moisture Mozzarella in custom blends of whole milk and part skim or with Provolone and Parmesan.

On the more adventurous artisan side, BelGioioso offers Crescenza-Stracchino®, CreamyGorg®, Fontina, Ricotta con Latte®, Burrata and Stracciatella, which Moran said all add distinct flavors to handcrafted pizzas.

“We truly have the broadest assortment of Italian style cheeses in the industry,” he said. “The product roster has not really changed so much. What has changed is the demand for pizza cheeses has accelerated.”

Automated pizza-making system gets upgrades

Seattle-based food production technology leader Picnic has made upgrades to the automated pizza assembly system it introduced in 2019.

The new improvements to the system include:

  • New design: The new design maintains the commercial-grade ruggedness of the previous system but is now more aesthetically pleasing so it can be placed in front-of-house. The new design improves upon existing hardware by enhancing ease-of-assembly and reliability.
  • Easier to use and clean: The larger front and top doors make it easier to load ingredients, clean, and service while providing operators better interior visibility to monitor ingredient levels. The system is now easier to break down at the end of the day and more parts are dishwasher safe.
  • Improved user interface: The user interface has been optimized for usability with easy-to-use menus and utilities so anyone can operate the system with minimal training. The system also offers improved monitoring and user feedback to let operators know if attention is needed.
  • Better food safety and cleanliness: The new refrigeration and enclosed design ensure all surfaces are maintained at food-safe temperatures. The improved hopper design allows for drainage of extra liquid for better handling of wet and brined ingredients.
  • Improved food handling: Picnic redesigned the food handling system to provide better topping accuracy and to better maintain cleanliness throughout the day.

“We are seeing an increase in enthusiasm for our system and early indications are that the improvements we’ve made resonate with our customers,” said Clayton Wood, Picnic’s CEO. “With our success and these improvements, an increasing number of kitchen operators are contacting us with interest in our system.”

The Picnic system uses a modular assembly line with high-capacity sauce, cheese, pepperoni, and granular ingredient dispensers. Picnic software solutions include an intuitive touchscreen interface for ordering pizza. The system is easy to install, requires limited build-out, and has a small footprint that fits easily in most locations, according to the company.

It allows kitchen operators to use their own recipe with precision and consistency while reducing food waste by eliminating overtopping and spillage. The system can make hundreds of pizzas per hour in any shape from 8 to 18 inches with full per pizza customization.