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KANSAS CITY — Competition is heating up in the pizza category as consumers eat pizza more regularly and more options emerge. Forty-three per cent of Americans eat pizza at least once a week, according to Technomic, and pizza restaurant units grew 0.9% in 2017.

“Increased demand for quality and authenticity is influencing consumers to become increasingly discerning about each component on their pizzas,” said Anne Mills, senior manager of consumer insights at Technomic. “As consumers’ expectations rise and competition increases, pizza operators will be driven into niche, specialized areas such as Roman-style, Detroit-style, and even convenience-focused offerings.”

Forty-nine per cent of consumers want restaurants to offer more authentic pizzas, Technomic said, and 28% of consumers — 43% of those ages 18-34 — are more interested in pizza with unique toppings and ingredients than they were two years ago. Forty-four per cent of consumers said they choose pizza operators based on who offers the best crust.

Technomic pizza trends chart“With different variations such as fast casual build-your-own concepts, retail options, and proliferation of regional pizzas, operators and suppliers must find unique ways to stand out while remaining authentic to their brand and pizza recipes,” Technomic said.

Seeking to satisfy consumers focused on crust, Pizza Hut is introducing a stuffed crust version of its signature pan pizza. The Double Cheesy Pan Pizza features a ring of melted cheese lining the edge of a pan pizza crust that is toasted and sprinkled with Parmesan oregano.

Also catering to crust enthusiasts, Pie Five Pizza is permanently adding a cauliflower crust option to its menu. The crust is gluten-free, vegetarian and contains 40 net carbs and 2 grams of sugar. Pie Five originally planned to only offer it for a limited time, but “that plan quickly changed after the crust was selling out at Pie Five restaurants across the country,” the company said.

“The crust is what makes any great pizza, so it’s important that our crust options are crafted using quality ingredients that taste delicious; our Cauliflower Crust definitely fits the bill,” said Christina Coy, vice-president of marketing for Pie Five Pizza. “Our Cauliflower Crust has great flavor and amazing health benefits. Load it up with all of your favorite toppings — for no extra charge — and its booming popularity makes a lot of sense. We are thrilled with the response that it has received from our loyal guests and even more excited to make it a permanent option on our menu.”

MOD Pizza is relying on adventurous ingredients to stand out in the pizza category. The chain’s new seasonal pizza, The Sophie, is a play on artichoke dip and features a white sauce base, arugula, mozzarella cheese, artichokes and bacon topped with grated Parmesan cheese and a drizzle of MOD’s Sri-Rancha sauce, which blends sriracha and ranch dressing.

The Sophia pizza, MOD Pizza“In the MOD test kitchen, we pore over dozens of flavor combinations to come up with our featured seasonal pizza,” said Brian Figler, culinary manager for MOD Pizza. “The Sophie was an immediate winner, inspired by one of our culinary team’s favorite comfort foods — artichoke dip. We take pride in trying new things on our pizza.”

For those seeking to travel with their taste buds and sample authentic regional flavors, California Pizza Kitchen (CPK) is debuting a new Sonoma, Calif.-inspired flatbread pizza. The Sonoma Grilled Chicken Flatbread features roasted marinated red grapes, grilled chicken, double cream brie and Parmesan cheeses, caramelized onions and arugula on a toasted flatbread.

“At CPK, we love to take inspiration from different parts of the world and create dishes that take our guests on a culinary adventure,” said Brian Sullivan, senior vice-president of culinary innovation at CPK. “Our newest menu innovation features exciting ingredients like oven roasted red grapes, grilled chicken and Brie on our Sonoma-style flatbread inspired by our California roots. We look forward to guiding guests on this flavorful journey.”

 View a slideshow of new menu items.