As grocery retailers continue to innovate in the pizza space, consumers have come to see retail pizzas as not only a convenient meal option, but also an option that rivals local and national pizza chain options.

From indulgent to healthy varieties with an emphasis on quality and freshness, retail pizza is something consumers have come to know and trust. In fact, 38% of consumers report buying a take-and-bake or refrigerated pizza from their grocery retailers monthly, and 12% report buying a grocery deli pizza weekly, according to Technomic’s 2020 State of Pizza report.

As consumer interest in retail pizza grows, retailers have an opportunity to expand pizza offerings to appeal to wider swaths of consumers.

“Convenience is a big factor for any kind of retail purchase for pizza,” said Anne Mills, director of consumer insights for Technomic. “Retailers can go above and beyond what consumers expected through thinking of ways to enhance tastes perceptions by focusing on quality through freshness.”

Mills noted that recently she observed a North Carolina retailer add a brick oven to its store to enhance pizza taste and quality. It’s small changes like brick or woodfired ovens that can make a huge difference.


A category thriving online

The circumstances of the pandemic have helped bring retail up to the same level of foodservice pizza chains through widespread introduction of online ordering, pickup and delivery at grocery store across the United States.

“Seeing retailers evolve with their online and mobile ordering services and being able to order groceries as well as those prepared foods together, is something that is going to be increasingly important,” said Mills. “That ability to place that grocery and prepared foods pizza order ahead of time gives retailers more opportunity to provide customization because they can build in that order platform online.”

From a foodservice side, consumers have long been familiar with ordering pizzas from their favorite pizza shops for delivery of pickup. This makes pizza an easy add-on to a grocery pick-up or delivery order.

According to Technomic, consumers want to engage with new technologies that not only process orders and payments but offer functionality that speeds up visits and transactions across the board.


Expanding the menu

Over the past year and a half, shoppers have been able to get almost anything they want at a touch of a button — including more flavor varieties and healthier pizza options. This provides a huge opportunity for grocery retailers to enhance their pizza menus and offerings, but retailers also have to be able to do that while staying within their means.

Breaking down popular pizza flavors by region can be a huge help. In the Northwest, Mills pointed out that consumers purchase pizza more often from grocery prepared food sections.

New York and Margarita style pizzas are popular in the Northeast. In the middle of the country, flavors such as buffalo chicken and cheeseburger spark interest. Meanwhile on the West coast, healthier options like Greek Mediterranean-inspired pizzas resonate best.

Technomic’s trend report identified 30% of consumers strongly agree that they are interested in trying pizzas with more unique toppings than they were two years ago. Meanwhile, 33% prefer to order a customized pizza, 32% like one topping pizzas, 19% prefer chef-designed pizza and 17% like plain cheese pizza best.

In order of importance, survey respondents rated dough/crust quality (40%), sauce quality (14%), quality of toppings (14%) and cheese quality (13%) the most important features of a pizza. Twenty-five percent said they were strongly interested in pizzas featuring crusts made with wheat alternatives, and 15% said they would consider ordering a cauliflower crust.

“There's going to be continued demand for traditional, kind of indulgent pizzas. But I do think we're going to see more innovation in terms of health and sustainability and also in terms of the flavors and the varieties of pizza and the types of toppings,” Mills said. “I think having a few staples in the very popular types of varieties like a cheese pizza, or meat lovers, whatever the top options are as permanent [menu options] and then having one or two options that are rotated in a monthly LTO or weekly LTO.”