KANSAS CITY – A key to maintaining a successful, relevant product in today’s marketplace is to achieve a balance between tradition and innovation. No product category has better illustrated this than pizza. It offers consumers the benefits of convenience, portability and, perhaps most importantly, customization. Operators have adapted, and it is why the category, at both food service and retail, has maintained its strength.

In a survey conducted by Technomic, Inc., consumers told the research firm they eat pizza an average of 3.4 times per month, and the category has adapted to increased consumer consumption patterns. In addition to traditional pizza formats, the product’s presence at retail is growing and the industry is seeing the emergence of a fast-casual pizza segment.

“Consumers are setting new standards for the quality and variety they expect,” said Darren Tristano, executive vice-president of Technomic, Inc. “The fast-casual pizza segment is succeeding because it’s matching customers’ needs for quality, freshness and the ability to choose from among a broader selection of ingredients.”

Mr. Tristano added that for pizza operators to stay competitive, they will have to strengthen the quality perception of their products by promoting freshness and customization opportunities, while giving guests a more interesting range of toppings, crusts and other options that emphasize variety.

Pizza elements Technomic said are on the rise include demand for thin crusts, Alfredo sauce, jalapeño peppers and gluten-free varieties. Special flavor combinations consumers appear to be attracted to include Hawiian, Philly cheesesteak, Buffalo chicken, Mexican/Southwest and Greek/Mediterranean, according to the market research firm.

The special flavor combinations most consumers are attracted to are one of the most interesting aspects of the Technomic data. It ties directly into the broadening horizons of consumers and their desire for new experiences from a familiar product format.

Look for the category to continue evolving as operators work to offer consumers more experiential pies and continue to focus on ensuring freshness and quality. The demand for fresh and quality may be seen in several recent offers, as Dominos promotes its “handmade” pan pizza and Pizza Hut pushes its garlic Parmesan offering.

Pizza makers clearly are tuned into the insights that are driving repeat purchases, and product developers in other categories would do well to watch and learn from what they are doing.