When Americans need comfort they crave pizza twice as much as any other food. That’s what an online Harris Poll of more than 2,000 U.S. adults last year found. And those cravings aren’t likely to disappear any time soon.
In its “2017 State of the Industry Pizza Report,” PMQ Pizza Magazine said that in the U.S., pizza is a $44 billion business. Consumer demand rose 26% between 2015 and 2016.
Conversely, convenience stores are grabbing a bigger piece of the pie.
According to research from the NPD Group, in the year ending November 2015, 5.2 billion ready-to-eat pizza servings were sold in the U.S. While most were sold by major pizza chains, 4%—nearly 210 million servings—were sold by c-stores.
At one of the two Shop ‘n’ Go stores in South Reno, Nev., customers can get all the comfort they crave from morning to night every day, whether it’s a grab-and-go slice or a whole pie. The pizzas are made in the stores in two sizes, 17-inch regular crust and a 12-inch “artisan-style” with a thinner, crispier crust.
In the Harris Poll survey, 29% of the respondents said they prefer a thin crust. Eighteen percent liked a regular crust, 15% a deep dish and 14% a stuffed crust. Fewer than one in 10 named a thick crust, French bread or Sicilian crust as a preference.
Other industry studies suggest that price remains a top priority for pizza consumers. Also, coupons and loyalty programs are most likely to motivate. Customizable personal size pizzas and combination deals, such as bundling with a drink are also popular motivators.
Shop ‘n’ Go begins the day with a Denver omelet-style pizza topped with a garlic spread, egg, hash browns, ham or sausage, jalapeños or bell pepper and onion. The store has been offering a breakfast pizza for at least 20 years, long before the trend took hold across America. General Manager Joe Linscott reported that it outsells any of the other pizzas and is one of the best-selling products in the store.
For the rest of the day, the toppings on the 17-inch pizzas that the stores sell by the slice change constantly, sometimes hourly.
Linscott describes the 12-inch pizzas as “artisan-style” because of their thin crust and fancier toppings. They are available in five varieties: Chorizo Goat Cheese with mozzarella and roasted red peppers; Prosciutto Gorgonzola with mozzarella and a drizzle of balsamic glaze; Salami and Goat Cheese with mozzarella, roasted red peppers and arugula; Buffalo Chicken with gorgonzola, mozzarella and purple onion; and Sausage Mushroom with feta cheese, mozzarella and sriracha.
PMQ’s report encouraged operators to create new specialty pizzas and limited time only (LTO) offers featuring locally grown, in-season toppings and new flavor profiles. Among the latter, the report suggested chorizo, chipotle and Jamaican jerk chicken.
In addition to generating significant sales of its own, pizza can boost customers’ purchases of go-with items. At Shop ‘n’ Go, one complementary item is beer, either in bottles, six-packs and 12-packs; pints to consume in the store or craft beer in growlers-to-go from the store’s filling station, Linscott said.
Pizza Independents vs. Chains
The demand of for pizza remained at an all-time high in 2016. There were 76,723 pizza restaurants in operation in the U.S. as of the end of September 2016. A total of 5,377 new pizzerias opened their doors in the past year, while 6,066 closed down, marking a little more market share up for grabs.