Delicious, convenient and reliable: pizza is a go-to food. The simple pizza pie checks a multitude of purchasing factors including value, quality and variety and its versatility accommodates anything from a quick, grab-n-go slice to a culinary exploration of restaurant-like results at home. Its highly adaptable format, which has proved virtually pandemic-proof, can be indulgent while also finding balance with better-for-you options.
While traditional forms of pizza show no signs of stagnation, there is a steady gravitation toward better-for-you diversification. This includes a rise in pizza crusts that follow clean label, low carb or low net-carb, whole grain, plant-based, vegan and gluten-free diets and lifestyles that respond to health-minded consumer demands, said Matthew Schueller, director of marketing insights and analytics, Ardent Mills, Denver.
Authenticity leads those demands – whether that’s pizza made with traditional ingredients and methods, leading with the origin story of a product, or seeking out the perfect flour, sauce or toppings to accommodate individual desires.
That means starting with a great baseline. Many consider a quality dough and crust to be the most important component of pizza, according to Technomic’s 2020 Pizza Consumer Trend Report.
There are a myriad of options available these days from the traditional and artisan made with minimal ingredients to crusts made with heirloom and ancient grains and those fortified with a variety of plant-based ingredients.
Delorio’s, Utica, N.Y., is a pizza dough supplier and manufacturer of premade frozen pizza dough, dough balls, organic dough, pizza dough flats, shells, breadsticks and alternative crusts for foodservice along with retail pizza kits and dough products featuring crust, sauce and cheese.
Looking to meet growing demands for crust that tastes great and dovetails with dietary demands, Delorio’s offers broccoli and cauliflower plant-based crusts, gluten-free, keto and sweet potato and chickpea crusts. Cargill, Minneapolis, has seen tremendous growth in the better-for-you pizza segment in retail led by a rise in demand for gluten-free crust with cauliflower as a leading option.
For customers who wish to offer whole-grain, gluten-free, non-GMO dishes, Ardent Mills provides organic flours and specialty grains that can produce a cleaner label eating experience. Add-ins such as quinoa, chickpea flour and spelt further boost nutrition, texture and flavor for health-conscious consumers, shared Lindsey Morgan, head of product marketing, Ardent Mills.
In 2021, the company introduced its Net Carb Flour Blends for use in a range of bakery and snack applications for consumers looking to manage their net carb intake. The calculation of net carbs subtracts the total grams of fiber and sugar alcohols from total carbohydrates. Crustless pizza, otherwise known as pizza bowls, is another option to enjoy pizza with a lower carb count.
Plant-based is also seeing robust growth in pizza toppings. Favorites like Italian sausage crumbles, pepperoni and minced meats and meatballs in plant-based form deliver a familiar look and nutritional benefits to conventional, animal-based products. Those looking to boost the protein content of their pizza can look to plant-based pizza toppings made with pea protein and textured pea protein.
Plant-based cheese offerings also continue to refine their offerings with greater emphasis on meltability and flavor. Schuman Cheese, Fairfield, N.J., offers its Vevan brand with Vevan Shreds for dairy-free and vegan pizza options.
“Consumers are looking not only for good tasting dairy-free cheese, but they also want it to perform like ‘real’ cheese,” said Allison Schuman, chief business development officer at Schuman Cheese. “Our Vevan Mozza-Shred is made by our master cheesemakers, so they stretch, pull and melt like dairy cheese. We think that in the near future, the performance of cheese is going to be a deciding factor for some shoppers.”
Another important factor in the purchase of pizza ingredients is longevity and authenticity. Pastorelli Food Products, Chicago, is the manufacturer of Italian Chef Pizza sauce, the first fully prepared pizza sauce in a can, created in 1952. The fourth-generation, family-owned company creates oils, vinegars, and tomato products for foodservice, retail and bulk.
“When we invented fully prepared pizza sauce in the can, there was a demand for convenience in the kitchen,” said Richard Pastorelli, chef, Pastorelli Food Products. “Now, we are seeing trends circle back to making dishes and ingredients from scratch.”
Alignment with values
This includes a return to the idea that less is more when it comes to pizza toppings, with consumers seeking out higher-quality ingredients and a growing awareness of sustainability when producing items.
For its authentic products, Pastorelli chooses to harvest domestic tomatoes, which is better for the environment than imported tomatoes, and in 2018, the company began packaging its Italian Chef Pizza sauce in a re-sealable glass jar to reduce environmental impact.
The trifecta of sustainability, better-for-you and good taste continue to push the bar, and the pizza category is no exception. Transparency across the entire product lifecycle is of growing interest to consumers from how the ingredients are grown to how products are made and packaged.
Last year, Ardent Mills launched its regenerative agriculture program to help strengthen the soil ecosystem and assist producers in improving the productivity and profitability their farms. By the end of this year, Ardent Mills has committed to enrolling 250,000 acres of spring and winter wheat into its regenerative agriculture program. The program’s goal is to advance regenerative agriculture practices and build the grower base over the next three years.
A product borne out of regional communities, pizza is a natural go-to when it comes to gatherings. Pastorelli predicts the pizza-making category will continue to see growth, especially in younger family households along with young adults. New audiences and new takes on the classic will likely continue to give rise to pizza as a food that inspires chefs and provides at-home cooks permission to experiment with flavors, cultural influences and ingredients.
Products such as Premium Gold ricotta cheese from Saputo, Lincolnshire, Ill., offer a way for foodservice operators to up the ante with restaurant-style pizzas featuring ricotta and figs or to brighten up a vegetarian offering.
“Consumers aren’t shying away from unique flavor combinations in the crust and toppings,” Schueller said. “Pretzel crusts, beer or ale in the dough and infused flavors are fairly new trends we expect to grow.”
Cargill is seeing consumers experimenting with “mashups” – flavor juxtapositions along with tried-and-true flavors. Its qualitative insights found that consumers are most likely to customize a cheese or pepperoni pizza and they’re doing it with a variety of toppings, including fresh chicken, ham or ground beef; as well as produce items such as peppers, garlic and spinach.
When it comes to a pizza bowl or a traditional or alternative crust, toppings are only limited by one’s imagination. Pizza variations run the daypart gamut with breakfast and dessert pizzas and internationally inspired flavors. Examples include Mediterranean-inspired hummus, tandoori chicken and Greek yogurt-topped pizza and pies with infusions of cream such as Cacio e Pepe (cheese and pepper) and mac and cheese. For the adventurous, there’s even ceviche, fresh raw fish cured in citrus juices.
“The highly visual nature of pizza invites consumers to share anything from a pizza’s artisanal quality or showcasing the uniqueness of toppings,” said Thomas Andersen, consumer insights manager, Cargill.
The International Pizza Expo 2021 showcased Korean beef bulgogi pizza, duck-and-sour cherry pizza, and cheese bread topped with French fries and BBQ sauce. New contenders will likely be introduced at this year’s International Pizza Expo. Held March 22-24 in Las Vegas, pizza makers from around the world will attend workshops in pizzeria management, educational sessions and equipment. Stay tuned for more pizza trends from the International Pizza Challenge, a gathering of 200 of the world’s best pizza makers.
Yelp predicts that blonde pizza, a white pizza without tomatoes, is likely to become a 2022 sensation. Datassentials forecasts artisanal pizza as a top pizza trend with staying power. New Haven-style pizza, popular in 2021, continues to trend as popularized by the One Bite pizza reviews of Dave Portnoy, founder and CEO of Barstool Sports, on YouTube and Twitter.
New Haven-style pizza can be compared to classic Neapolitan or New York-style pizza but in a thinner, crispier version. The pizza features an extremely thin crust, distinctive char and uses 00 Caputo flour to make the dough tender and chewy.
“One of America’s favorite foods is heading toward a very interesting phase of innovation – from flavors to formats and ingredients and potential benefits,” Schueller concluded. “It will be extremely exciting to see how this category grows and unfolds and what creative applications come from it.”