New options in pizza offerings continue to satisfy the nation’s need for delicious tastes and meal-time convenience.
A recent poll conducted by CiCi’s Pizza indicates the average American will chow down on approximately 6,000 slices of pizza in his or her lifetime.
While 85% of survey respondents said they eat pizza because they like the taste, 47% agreed the critical factor of convenience makes ready-to-eat pies especially attractive.
But as with most everything, changes are happening. Today’s pizza lovers are more concerned about healthy eating, new vegetable toppings are attracting interest and non-tomato based sauces such as pesto and white Alfredo are gaining more fans.
To keep up with competitors, convenience stores are adopting many pizza restaurant trends, and customers are responding positively. A report from Mintel, the consumer research group, predicted total pizza sales will mushroom 11% between 2016 and 2021 to $5.7 billion in sales. Moreover, 25% of consumers ages 18-24 say they’ve purchased a pizza from a c-store in the last three months.
Over the past several years, “clean label” has become a foodservice buzzword. Consumers seek healthy, natural ingredients when they dine, and that includes dining on pizza.
At Rutter’s stores, based in York, Penn., pizza is a priority. Customers can choose from over 50 toppings for their custom pizza but only pay extra for protein additions. Sauces and veggies are added to the pie at no extra charge. As one may expect, pepperoni and sausage are the two leading toppings, respectively.
“But our number three and number four chosen toppings are veggies,” said Ryan Krebs, director of foodservice for Rutter’s. “Even with the fast array of proteins we have – aside from the almighty pepperoni and sausage—green peppers and black olives are right behind those. A lot of people are choosing vegetable toppings only. We’re not sure if that’s because they want to eat healthier or because they get more for their buck, but we encourage them to make some of those healthier choices, even when it comes to pizza.”
Of course, pizza is still an indulgent, comfort food for most consumers, and recognizing that, Rutter’s includes regional protein favorites, including fried baloney and pork belly, in the chain’s toppings menu.
As a line extension, Rutter’s recently introduced Roni Rolls made from soft, Italian dough and stuffed with pepperoni and mozzarella and then topped with more cheese.
Approximately one in 100 Americans suffer from celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder caused by gluten intolerance. This includes several members of Larry Jackson’s family.
Jackson, owner of Good to Go Markets, which includes the Bullhead Pit Beef food truck in Columbia, Md., wants his relatives to enjoy food at his newest convenience store location, so he’s searching for a non-traditional, healthier crust for his pizza program.
“I started exploring options thinking that if we could do a gluten-free crust that was as good as a regular crust, I would be able to serve something that people who don’t usually eat gluten-free would appreciate,” Jackson said. “We’ve tried several options so far, and I’ve made dozens of varieties of crust starting with a traditional flour recipe that I like and substituting different options, including chickpea flour, soy based flour, cornmeal and coconut flour combined with tapioca. But so far, nothing tastes like a traditional crust.”
While several of Jackson’s experiments are considered “pretty good,” Jackson acknowledges proper preparation of the ideal crust has not yet been mastered at the c-store yet.
“It’s going to take it a little more time,” said Jackson.
Comprehensive training of all in-store pizza-makers is important. If team members are educated in safe food-handling practices, follow all food safety codes and work to avoid waste, they will produce a better product and save their employer time and money.
Break Time convenience stores with 73 locations in Missouri relies on the Hunt Brothers Pizza program in 21 outlets. Currently, the nation’s largest brand of made-to-order c-store pizza, Hunt Brothers is sold in more than 7,500 locations across 28 states. The program features any combination of 10 toppings, all of them at no extra charge, and introduces LTO options several times a year.
“Hunt Brothers’ training has always been pretty tight,” said Anita Bichsel, marketing manager for Break Time. “We have a foodservice and development manager who serves as a liaison between Hunt Brothers and our stores. When we open a new store, Hunt Brothers comes on site with their people to train our staff. As our employees learn the program, we sample pizza to customers.”
To keep best practices top of mind, a training video from Hunt is posted on the Break Time intranet site for employees to review whenever necessary.
ORDER AND DELIVERY
PMQ’s 2018 Pizza Industry Census reports that 58% of pizza restaurant operators currently offer online ordering and some credit as much as 15% of their sales to this added convenience.
Consumers have been quick to adopt the new technology. EMarketer, a research company that follows digital marketing trends, recently reported 69% of Internet users have ordered food delivery online within the past year.
Ankeny, Iowa-based Casey’s General Stores began serving pizza in 1984, and today, it’s one of the company’s signature fresh food items. Customers can order the chain’s made-from-scratch pies online, and in some areas, purchase oven-ready flatbread pizza that can be baked at home. In addition, they may pick up ready-to-eat or ready-to-bake pizzas at the store or request home delivery, which has been an option at Casey’s since 2011.
According to Mintel, convenience stores are increasingly offering better quality pizza, complete with a wider range of flavors and sizes, plus more topping offers.
“Pizza is a personal experience,” said Krebs. “Even when four friends get together, they can’t decide on the same flavor so they say pepperoni. At Rutter’s, we don’t offer slices. We do an 8-inch personal pizza, which is a filler, if you eat the whole thing. And we have 16-inch pizza that can service a bigger customer base, such as a soccer team or a family. Surprising, a lot of truck drivers will order a large pizza, put it on their passenger seat and drive down the freeway eating pizza that way. I’m glad we have those options for our customers.”