In a saturated category, pizza manufacturers must go beyond round crusts, traditional tomato sauce and mozzarella to engage consumers’ maturing palates.

Pizza is a staple meal in the American diet. It’s a food category that isn’t going anywhere; that, however, is both blessing and curse. Pizza may be here to stay, ingrained in a family’s meal plan rotation, but the category is also saturated and doesn’t have much room to grow.

“Pizza has matured to the point where the majority of Americans eat it, but it’s hard to grow it,” said Dave Foran, vice-president, sales and marketing, Little Lady Foods, Inc., Elk Grove Village, IL.

According to a June 2014 report on pizza by Mintel, Chicago, pizza at the retail level experienced flat sales between 2009 and 2014. Frozen pizzas controlled 82% of the market in 2014, but Mintel forecasted those sales would decline into 2019. Analysts at Mintel attribute all of this to a recovering economy and growing consumer confidence. When consumers have the money, they will splurge for restaurant pizza rather than “settling” for store-bought.

Pizza manufacturers can use this to their advantage if they invest in quality. Consumers today are looking for upscale food and bringing the restaurant experience home. “Once you start tasting what’s good, you don’t want to go back,” said David Mafoud, principal, Damascus Bakery, Newark, NJ. “Your palate knows it, and you’re not going to go backwards on quality.”

This is most notable among millennials who crave upscale food and innovative flavor combinations. According to Mintel, they are also the most likely to purchase frozen or refrigerated store-bought pizza.

Households with children also offer another demographic for pizza manufacturers to tap for sales. Between children’s love of pizza and parents’ love of convenience, families are ripe for increased pizza sales.

Despite these two interested demographics, market saturation makes it difficult for pizza manufacturers to break through the noise. In order to gain some ground in sales, bakers have to get creative with new products to gain consumer attention.

“We’re also seeing category growth resulting from more experimentation with a variety of types and styles of pizza doughs, crusts and flatbreads,” said Donna Reeves-Collins, director of marketing for pizza and flatbreads, Rich Products Corp., Buffalo, NY. “Innovation continues to characterize the category and is being driven by authenticity, ethnic varieties and flavors from around the globe.”

This creative innovation has manifested itself in the form of new flavors, crusts, sizes and formats. Some innovations are aimed at making healthy claims; others try simply to make mouths water.