In its “Global Pizza Market 2016-2020” report, Technavio research forecasted a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of around 3% for that period.
Researchers attributed much of that growth to the influx of new and often bold topping ingredients and combinations, a trend that is being greeted with open minds and palates, particularly by Millennials.
“Limited edition” varieties fill the bill for flavor experimentation at the more than 300 Pilot Flying J retail locations that offer pizza as part of their PJ Fresh brand, said Shannon Johnson, the Knoxville, Tenn.-based chain’s vice president of food innovation. Offered multiple times per year, the limited editions are available for four to six weeks at a time.
Pilot Flying J’s combined network of more than 750 retail locations across North America serves more than 1.3 million customers daily.
Two varieties that were particularly well received by guests were the Buffalo chicken and mega meat pizzas.
“We always want to surprise and delight our guests, especially during different seasons,” Johnson said. “These specialty variations allow our guests to discover new flavors.”
Johnson pointed out that pizza is one of the stores’ most popular food offerings, making it a consistent growth category. He credited a combination of fresh, hand-crafted-on-site product and top-quality ingredients such as 100% mozzarella cheese and other premium toppings.
And there’s another interesting twist in the way Pilot Flying J prepares its PJ Fresh Pizzas. To make its pies visually distinctive and memorable, the crust is braided by hand into a signature “rope” design.
“We call PJ Fresh Pizza ‘unexpectedly awesome’ because travelers don’t really think about getting a high-quality pizza when stopping for fuel and other travel center items,” said Johnson.
PJ Fresh Pizza is available whole or by the slice. At any given time, no fewer than three varieties are available by the slice and guests can customize their whole pizzas to take to work or home.
Aside from the traditional lunch and dinner pizza purchases, customers have also taken to ordering the pies during the morning daypart. This has made the stores’ breakfast pizza an increasingly popular item, said Johnson.
The Technavio report showed that some major national chains are bundling customization with “better-for-you” benefits by providing nutrition calculators that help customers keep track of the calorie count in their build-your-own creations. Pilot Flying J lists the calorie counts of some of its pies on its company website.
According to Technavio, gluten free is also well on its way from being a niche market buzz-phrase to mainstream concept, even though only about 1% of Americans have celiac disease—an immune reaction to eating gluten, necessitating avoidance of that protein.
However, a much higher number of Americans are adopting the gluten-free lifestyle for health reasons.