Claim Your Slice

Is it delivery or DiGiorno? For a large number of Americans, it's neither. "Pizza at Retail - US," a July 2012 report from global market research firm Mintel, notes that 41 percent of consumers see store brand pizzas as comparable in quality to national brand pizzas.

"Private label has an opportunity, especially among consumers between the ages of 18 and 34, because close to half of them feel that private label" pizzas taste the same as national brand pizzas, the report states.

Quality and uniqueness win

However, retailers looking to grab their slice of the category shouldn't just copy the national brands.

They need to make sure they're offering unique, quality own-brand pizzas that truly differentiate, says Tobias GÖercke, vice president of Morris Plains, N.J.-based Freiberger USA.

"National brand equivalents do not separate a retailer from its competitors," he explains.

Ivan Manfredi, vice president of sales and partner with Modena, Italy-based EatBetter Srl, agrees.

"I think that quality at the end of the day pays, and retailers should always focus on giving the best product possible," he points out. "The worst trends are [toward] the cheap, everyday pizzas, versus premium or organic [pizzas], where we see an increase in customer loyalty and total sales."

To many consumers, a clean ingredient label also is a critical part of a quality pizza's definition. According to the Mintel report, half of consumers claim that the number of ingredients listed on a package is "an important purchase driver when buying frozen pizza." Therefore, retailers need to consider including more wholesome ingredients in their pizza and avoiding those that don't sound natural, the report says.

Scott Treadaway, sales director with the retail division of Houston-based Russo's New York Pizzeria, agrees, noting that shoppers want their frozen pizzas to be made with ingredients such as fresh produce, extra-virgin olive oil and all-natural meat toppings.

As for topping combinations, the classics always will have a prominent place. Dirk Merle, president and CEO of Alva, Okla.-based Value Added Perfection!, says traditional offerings such as pepperoni make up the "lion's share" of the frozen pizza business and will continue to do so for a long time.

But retailers also need to offer truly "unique and exciting" frozen pizzas to differentiate themselves from restaurants and other retailers, Treadaway notes. To meet demand here, he says his company offers for private labeling frozen New York-style pizzas in Greek, Chicken Rustica, Margherita and Mulberry (a meat-lover's pizza). And to meet the rising demand for gluten-free products, the company can develop gluten-free versions of the pizzas.

However, unique varieties should not be limited to the frozen side. Peter Cokinos,senior vice president of sales and marketing for Little Lady Foods, Elk Grove Village, Ill., notes that the refrigerated side competes head to head with pizzerias, so retailers need to make sure they have both the standard varieties (cheese, sausage, pepperoni, etc.) and unique items that differentiate. For private labeling, his company offers two unique varieties in its take-and-bake lineup: Buffalo Chicken and Philly Steak and Cheese.

"We think that you have to have a couple of signature items that will promote trial in the category and take people into the category," he says. "And that trial will increase your sampling. And when you've increased your sampling, hopefully, you've created a customer."

Crust also matters to shoppers. On both the frozen and refrigerated sides, products with a hand-tossed crust are growing in popularity, Cokinos notes.

"We've recently come off a big high on real thin crust — crackery, super-premium products," he says. "We've kind of seen that trend now for five to six years, and we're emerging into what I would call the hand-tossed [product lines]."

Chris Dresselhuys, director of marketing with Milwaukee-based Palermo's Pizza, agrees that products with a hand-tossed crust are gaining steam. But unlike Cokinos, he believes ultra-thin-crust products also are continuing to trend upward.

Show them what they're buying

Of course, winning the sale takes more than a good pie — retailers also need to make sure packaging is attractive. Peter Smith, national marketing manager with New Boston, Mich.-based Champion Foods, says they could give their take-and-bake pizzas a "made-in-store" feel by packaging them in kraft boxes.

As for frozen pizzas, packaging should sport an appetizing picture of the product inside, Treadaway states.

"For example, if it's our Chicken Rustica pizza, you will see the entire pizza on the box [with] the fresh ingredients [and] all of the toppings," he points out.

Frozen-pizza packaging also should communicate a product's artisanal attributes wherever applicable, sporting callouts such as "wood-fired" or "stone-baked," says a spokesperson for Meduno, Italy-based Roncadin.

But packaging can do more than just make a product look good - it can make a product taste good, too. For example, Alan Hoover, general manager of Jane's Dough Foods, Columbus, Ohio, says packaging for his company's line of Fast Break microwavable personal pizzas incorporates the company's patented Micro-Grill technology, which enables pizzas to come out hot and crispy in less than two-and-a-half minutes. His company offers the same technology for its store brand customers.

Get them to try

Although great quality and attractive, functional packaging can go a long way to win the sale, getting the product into shoppers' mouths doesn't hurt, either.

"Russo's stresses the importance [of] doing demos and sampling," Treadaway states. "It's a must to get the product in the consumer's hands and mouths."

It also helps to pair up store brand pizza with own-brand products in other categories to offer a meal solution, says Cheryl Scott, CEO of Mountain Home, Texas-based Davis Bros. Pizza.

"Consumers are actually looking for a pizza meal, not just a pizza snack."

Smith agrees, noting that several of his company's retailer partners have had "huge success" with cross-merchandising deals. "An example would be: 'Buy a pizza, get a breadstick, 2-liter [bottle] of soda and a salad kit free,'" he says.

Smith adds that retailers also could bundle a number of products together in a single package. For example, retailers could offer a box containing pizza, breadsticks, chicken wings and cookies. Several retailers already offer private brand pizza bundles, including Supervalu under the Culinary Circle brand.

Placement within the freezer case counts, too. Dresselhuys recommends that retailers place their best-selling frozen SKUs at the center of the freezer case to make sure customers are fully aware of them.

Cokinos also believes in the importance of placement, noting that retailers are likely to sell more frozen pizzas if they place the products in an end-cap freezer.

"Pizza on an end cap is a big item," he explains. "I've seen statistics that say that 70 to 80 percent of [frozen] pizza purchases happen when the product's on sale in an end cap. … It catches [shoppers'] attention, and they make an impulse buy.

Look what's new

Now available from Minneapolis-based Target is Archer Farms Baby Portobello & Caramelized Onion Wood-Fired Pizza, a frozen pizza said to be handmade from only the finest all-natural ingredients. The dough is hand-stretched, covered with baby portobello mushrooms and caramelized onions, then topped with a blend of mozzarella and Grana Padano cheeses. Each pie is then wood-fired to produce a crisp, chewy, mildly smoky crust. The product retails in a 12.3-oz. carton.

Our Finest Grilled Chicken & Roasted Red Pepper Ultra Thin Crust Pizza from Walmart Canada, Mississauga, Ontario, is said to feature an authentic hand-stretched thin-crust base. The frozen pie is topped with tomato sauce, pieces of grilled chicken, roasted red peppers and mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses. The premium product retails in a recyclable 440g carton made from 100 percent recycled paper fiber with a minimum 35 percent post-consumer content.

New from the Fred Meyer banner of Cincinnati-based Kroger is Fred Meyer Extra Thin Crust Chicken Quesadilla Pizza. The frozen pizza is said to combine chicken breast with rib meat, peppers, onions and a blend of cheeses and cheese sauce on an extra-thin crust. The product contains 18g protein and 320 calories per serving. The pizza retails in a 15.4-oz. carton.

Canada Safeway — a subsidiary of Pleasanton, Calif.-based Safeway — introduced Open Nature Hawaiian Thin Crust Pizza. The frozen pizza — which contains no artificial ingredients or preservatives — is said to be made using ingredients from natural sources and prepared with as little processing as possible. It retails in a 432g carton.

►Do consider offering pizzas with hand-tossed crusts, which are growing in popularity

Don't forget to place your best-selling frozen pizza SKUs in the center of the freezer for all your shoppers to see.

Do consider pairing store brand pizzas with other own-brand offerings to create a meal solution.