Growth has been slow but steady over the past five years in the $38.7 billion business that is the pizza category. By 2019, that number is expected to rise to $42.6 billion, according to the IBISWorld research firm.
At LaCrosse, Wis.-based Kwik Trip, the proprietary Cheese Mountain pizza, introduced about 10 years ago, today accounts for about 20% of the chain’s hot food sales. Though last year’s sales increases were “marginal,” according to Paul Servais, the company’s food service zone leader, there has been a very encouraging resurgence in the first half of this year.
“We’re seeing our pizza sales really growing now,” Servais said. “We thought that since we’ve been in it for such a long time sales would flatten, but they haven’t.”
Cheese Mountain Pizzas are available by the slice, whole baked in the store or refrigerated to take home and bake. Take-and-bake is the fastest growing segment for Kwik Trip, followed by whole pies baked to order.
“Customers who are planning to stop for some milk or bread will call five minutes ahead of time, and we’ll have the pizza hot and ready for them to take home,” Servais said.
With the high speed turbo ovens that Kwik Trip uses, pizzas can be baked in as little as three minutes so customers don’t have to wait long if they decide to purchase one on the spot.
Although lunch is still the major daypart for pizza, Servais pointed out that dinner sales are also growing.
“We look at pizza as the traffic driver for our take-home prepared meals business,” Servais said. “It’s fundamental; everyone likes pizza and it’s a good value at prices that range from $6.99 to $10.99, depending on which crust and toppings you choose.”
Kwik Trip also has a breakfast pizza that Servais said does well. Grab-and-go slices from the stores’ Hot Spot display are popular snack items throughout the day.
CATERING TO THE CUSTOMER
Now more than ever, consumers are becoming more health conscious and they are craving products made from fresh and organic ingredients.
“As a result, pizzerias will increasingly focus on providing crusts and toppings made from high-quality goods,” said IBISWorld industry analyst Andy Brennan.
Kwik Trip has recently “ramped up the quality” of the meats used on its pizzas, Servais said. Customers can also choose from thin or regular crust.
Servais added that the chain is “experimenting with fancier toppings.” For example, chicken alfredo and barbecue chicken pizzas are offered on its regular menu.
Brennan noted that operators are also focusing on differentiating their products from other competitors. As an example, Brennan cited California Pizza Kitchen’s innovations with offerings, such as the Greek pizza, which includes Mediterranean chicken and mozzarella topped with a Greek salad.
Kwik Trip uses limited time offers (LTOs) to keep its pizza menu fresh and exciting and to differentiate it from surrounding competitors. Some LTOs scheduled for this year are the Green Hornet—a chicken pizza with green chilies and jalapeño peppers—Asian chicken or pork, brat pizza and spicy chicken and chorizo.