Get Your Piece Of The Pie

Maintain a competitive price point and deliver on quality to make store brand pizza the pizza of choice.

Any way you slice it, Americans have a love affair with pizza. While apple pie might be synonymous with American pride, the Italian import has won over the hearts — and stomachs — of the American consumer.

At-home pizza options have become a cost-effective and flexible alternative to pizza shops. The top chains have not made it easy, though, with heavily advertised specials and promises of improved recipes. But store brand retail offerings are holding tight and finding ways to grow even ahead of their name brand counterparts.

To capitalize on recent successes and increase future category share, private label pizza offerings will have to continue to deliver on quality across the classic flavor and crust formulations, while keeping an eye on new healthier alternatives, different sizes and even combo packs such as those offered at the local pizza joint.

Do consider adding premium, healthier and convenience-minded pizzas to supplement the cheese, pepperoni and sausage standbys.

Plenty of trends

You can never go wrong with the classics. The good old cheese, sausage and pepperoni varieties we all know (and many of us love) remain best sellers. But to stand out, retailers should look into offering new flavor combos in addition to these old standbys.

"Consumer palates are changing," says Dana Evaro, marketing director for Land Mark Products Inc., Milford, Iowa, "and [there is] an increased demand for specialty flavors/toppings like chicken, sauces and — believe it or not — spicy [ingredients]."

The premium pizza segment also is showing signs of real potential, says Giacomo Fallucca, president and CEO of Milwaukee-based Palermo's Pizza.

"The ultra thin crust and 'pizzeria style' pizza that more closely align with an out-of-home pizza experience have shown the greatest growth," he explains, "while rising crust has declined as U.S. household size decreases. Chicken and steak have seen considerable growth as the primary topping protein, along with growth in the use of alternative white sauces."

Healthier vegetarian or vegetable-topped alternatives to the predominantly cheese and meat-based recipes also are worth exploring.

According to Tobias GÖrcke, vice president of Morris Plains, N.J.-based Freiberger USA Inc., these recipes could stress quality of ingredients over quantity, as well as less fat, reduced sodium and shorter ingredient lists.

Ivan Manfredi, vice president of sales for Modena, Italy-based Eat Better srl, also points to the popularity of small formats "such as the 7-inch pizza" and adds that small ready-to-microwave options also are on trend.

Don't rule out combo packs that include extras such as breadsticks, chicken wings or dessert.

Consider your shoppers

The sheer number of current trends within the pizza space can be overwhelming. Retailers will have to think hard and be selective to seek out store brand opportunities that make the most sense for their shoppers. The pizza chains are leading the way, and the onus is on retailers to make sure their private label offerings follow.

"Family-style pizzas [and] family-friendly toppings like pepperoni, sausage and supreme are always going to offer retailers the widest appeal and biggest bang for the buck," says Peter J. Smith, marketing manager for Champion Foods, New Boston, Mich. However, add-ons such as "breadsticks are also a very good opportunity for retailers to gain additional rings."

Smith points to the growing popularity of "combo packs," which include breadsticks, cookies or chicken wings as add-ons to pizza, saying they could help retailers better compete with national pizza chains offering similar combinations. The name brands already have caught on to the combo pack trend, after all.

"Store brands need to be sure that they are covering all of the bases in regard to price segments and crust platforms," Fallucca says. "Retailers ought to focus on the premium and value offerings and make sure that their offerings can compete head-to-head with their national brand counterparts."

Maintaining a price gap — especially when the national brand goes on sale — is crucial.

"In terms of price, you have to be very competitive," Smith says, "and maybe take slightly less profit per unit because there are plenty of pizza places out there that are selling a $5 pizza."

GÖrcke cautions against "depressing retails with low opening price point products," however.

Do consider offering meal deals that center on store brand frozen or take-and-bake pizza.

Show it off

While the majority of today's pizza purchase decisions are made in the freezer aisle, a variety of pizza options are available throughout the store. Effective merchandising, therefore, takes some creativity.

Putting products front and center helps get the word out on the refrigerated pizza — or "take-and-bake" — side.

"While take-and-bake pizza is gaining in popularity," Smith says, "it is still not a planned purchase; therefore, it has to be given prominent display space so consumers are aware of it."

And who is to say that the freezer section has to be relegated to the back and sides of a store? By placing small merchandising freezers in high-traffic areas away from the normal frozen food section, GÖrcke offers, retailers could increase private label pizza visibility.

Coupons that entice shoppers to "try it and switch" or coupons via quick-response (QR) code on the pizza box that are good instantly or on a future visit could encourage trial. Retailers also should consider promos featuring a complete meal centered on a pizza.

"We have retailers who have had huge success doing bundled deals around big events," Smith notes. "An example would be: Buy a pizza, get a breadstick, 2-liter of soda and a salad kit free."

Pizza also can play a role in promoting other store brand products, Manfredi believes.

"An interesting opportunity could come through cross-merchandising," he says. "Including [a] sachet of olive oil inside the pizza packaging [would] promote the branded oil of the store." Retailers could even go so far as to add "recipe suggestions" in the olive oil package, he adds.

Speaking of packaging, options that mimic the pizzeria-style lift-top boxes give the impression that the pizza was freshly made. And clear windows could work to show off the quality of the raw ingredients topping store brand pizza.

"Certain traits need to be maintained to ensure that products are getting to the consumer's home intact," Fallucca says.

Don't neglect aging baby boomers — partner with suppliers to develop pizza options that will appeal to these health-minded empty-nesters.

Look what's new

M&M Meat Shops Four Corners Pepperoni and Bacon Pizzas are billed as gourmet multigrain thin-crust pizzas with diced pepperoni, bacon crumbles, part-skim mozzarella cheese and a savory tomato sauce. The frozen pizzas, from M&M Meat Shops, Kitchener, Ontario, retail in a 400g (14.1-oz.) carton that contains two 200g pizzas.

New from Lakeland, Fla.-based Publix is Publix GreenWise Market Organic Margherita Pizza. The frozen pizza is said to contain a simple mix of organic ingredients, including tomatoes, mozzarella and Parmesan cheese, "sweet basil and zippy garlic," tomato sauce and a "crisp thin wheat crust." The pizza retails in a 12.4-oz. carton.

The Artisan Fresh 16" Take N' Bake Pepperoni Pizza from Bentonville, Ark.-based Sam's Club is said to be handmade in-store and topped with real mozzarella cheese. The refrigerated pizza retails in a 45-oz. recyclable carton.

Source: Mintel's Global New Products Database