While other foodservice categories have taken hits during the pandemic, pizza is one that has thrived, said Mark Brandau, associate director of content for Datassential research firm. In its March 21, 2021 Keynote Report, Datassential found that more than one-third of consumers, including 49% of millennials, said they increased their pizza consumption compared to the year before.
For one-quarter of those respondents, it was COVID-19 that made them order “much more delivery and takeout,” and convenience stores were among the retailers set up to take advantage of “one of the biggest shifts in consumer behavior in the past two years,” Brandau explained. At the time of the report, 29% of consumers had ordered pizza from a c-store, up 10 percentage points from 2018.
Customizable, “build your own” pizzas are the strongest sellers at Tulsa-Okla.-based QuikTrip, which operates 921 locations in 14 states, according to Aisha Jefferson Smith, the chain’s corporate communications manager. Instead of slices, the chain offers seven-inch, personal-size pizzas which, Smith noted, are very popular for lunch.
Overall, pizza sales are “growing modestly” at QuikTrip, she said. Breakfast pizza sales in particular are increasing.
“We expect those sales trends to continue,” Smith said.
The pandemic changed the way Duchess Convenience Stores displays and sells its popular pizza. Prior to COVID-19, the oversized pizza slices were sold from a self-serve rotating warmer. Customers would choose their slice and put it in a box.
When COVID restrictions shut that self-serve counter down, Duchess turned to pre-boxing its slices and selling them from the hot foods case alongside sandwiches and other heated items for grab and go, said Nathan Arnold, Duchess’ director of marketing. Although that has worked out well for the chain, which has 119 stores in Ohio and West Virginia, 75% of which sell pizza, Arnold pointed out that Duchess plans to return to its original sales method.
“This is our model, and it has worked well for us,” he said.
Looking at trends in this category, Arnold said consumers are asking for spicier toppings. He also noted a growing interest in gluten-free crust for people with celiac disease or who just want to follow a low-carb lifestyle. Duchess, he said, is exploring both additions to its pizza menu.
Store apps have shifted the pizza ordering process and, Brandau predicted, “will only become more important and handle more of a pizza restaurant’s business in the future.”
Many QuikTrip customers now order through the c-store’s app, Smith said.