Out with the old

Pizza is a lot like politics. It inspires passion. Opinions about what is good and what is bad are strongly held. Decisions about how it should ultimately look are based on sometimes competing value judgments.

Trends in the pizza and pizza crust category reflect the values of today’s body politic. Whatever appears to be too processed, too cheap or too junk-food-like is increasingly shunned. Healthful attributes, wholesome and pure ingredients, a touch of sophistication and a dash of adventure are in favor now.

In addition, an improving economy is boosting restaurant and takeout pizza at the expense of retail sales, which are flat at about $6 billion for 2015, according to global market research firm Mintel. However, Mintel expects retail pizza sales to exhibit steady, albeit slow, growth through 2020.

In its October 2015 report, “Pizza — US,” Mintel advises retailers to battle foodservice competition by using natural, clean and premium ingredients to add value and drive retail sales. Furthermore, retailers should offer products free from artificial preservatives, flavors and colors and tout those qualities vigorously, Mintel adds.

Young and Hispanic consumers are interested in frozen non-restaurant-branded pizza that offers non-typical flavors and attributes, according to the report. But younger millennials are more likely to regard frozen pizza as less than healthful, and 66 percent of parents say they would purchase more frozen pizza if it were less processed. Frozen pizza comprises 82 percent of the retail pizza market, according to Mintel.

Step it up

When it comes to pizza trends, the development of premium, artisanal recipes is one of the biggest, says Davide Rossi, who heads up North American sales for Modena, Italy-based Italpizza.

“People are willing to pay a little bit more … for a product with higher quality,” he explains.

Dan Gemeiner, director of sales for Houston-based Russo’s Retail LLC, agrees.

“Consumers are looking for gourmet/restaurant style pizzas with unique toppings,” he says.

Russo’s is answering this trend with its prosciutto and fig sauce pizza on traditional New York-style crust, Gemeiner adds.

Consumers are also more health-oriented in their choice of pizza, says Amy Lotker, owner of and head of sales and marketing for Better4U Foods, Delray Beach, Fla. Better4U Foods offers pizzas made with USDA certified organic ancient grains that include sprouted wheat, quinoa and millet.

Health-minded attributes are in demand, Rossi agrees. Consumers want simpler and more natural ingredients, as well as organics and grain mixes.

Emerging trends include vegan and gluten-free offerings, increased use of DOP (denominazione di origine protetta or protected designation of origin) products and different shaped pies that facilitate sharing, Rossi adds.

Let the product shine

In packaging graphics, Rossi says elegance works. For instance, a black background supporting detailed imagery is on trend.

This type of artwork references the artistry that goes into developing and producing the product.

Powerful communication is important, Gemeiner says.

“The product in the package needs to be communicated with strong copy to highlight the strengths of the product,” he says.

Allow consumers to easily see an accurate representation of what’s in the package, Lotker advises.

“Transparency of messaging — graphically and visually — provides cues about the natural and healthy ingredients offered,” she says. “In the case of allergy-free products such as gluten-free, trending packaging makes that claim clear on the front of the package, aligned with icons like ‘certified gluten-free’ that indicate authenticity about health and nutrition claims.”

Emerging packaging trends, Rossi says, center around simplicity.

“A simple box, very clean … focuses attention only on the product,” he says.

Packaging that gets straight to the point about the healthful properties associated with the ingredients is another emerging trend, Lotker adds.

Health, convenience, excitement

If the pizza category is to gain traction with consumers, retailers need to concentrate on more than just the basic pizzas, Gemeiner says.

“Offer something new and different with quality ingredients,” he says.

In-store product demonstrations give people a chance to recognize the product, taste it and become loyal to the brand, Rossi says.

“Retailers have much to gain by serving the growing needs of consumers seeking certified organic foods first and foremost,” Lotker adds. “Today’s health-oriented consumers are excited about organic foods, and retailers who cater to them not only satisfy the need, they brand their markets as ‘progressive’ and ‘natural-product focused’ — and that’s a strong marketing move.”

Show and tell

When it comes to marketing own-brand pizza, Gemeiner advises retailers to communicate that the product is as good as or better than the national brands — and to stand behind that claim.

“Advertise when a new store brand is available to let the consumer know there is something new and different for them to try,” he adds. “Once again, highlight the strong benefits of the product.”

It’s also important to have a solid promotional plan throughout the year, positioned close to particular events or festivities, Rossi says. Promotions and discounts work well in this category, more so than everyday low prices, he believes.

“Retailers have at their fingertips a host of exciting marketing claims just by spotlighting the products they stock that provide all the qualities consumers are hungry for — natural, organic, easy-to-prepare, tasty foods made with non-GMO ingredients,” Lotker says. “More and more consumers, including millennials, will only shop at markets that provide access to these products. Promoting these products should be a priority within retailer marketing strategies aimed at the health and natural products consumer.”

She says retailers need to be proactive in educating their staff, too, so the staff can, in turn, educate shoppers.

“Sampling programs and store signage should inform consumers and promote their desire to try new, healthier products coming to market,” Lotker says. “Placing increased focus on natural and organic foods will help elevate any retail brand. If you poll consumers about the grocers they respect most, you’ll see that retailers who focus on innovative health-oriented natural foods rank at the top of the list.”

Do consider current trends toward natural ingredients and adventuresome flavors.

Don’t overdo messaging and graphics on pizza packaging; simplicity sells.

Do consider consumers’ desire for transparency in product-related communications.

Don’t forget to sample new own-brand pizza products to spur trial.