Brooklyn-style pizza crusts
Brooklyn-style crusts help consumers experiment at home with their own pizzas yet also achieve a quality crust.

Beyond the traditional crust

Flavored and rustic crusts can add some interest and authenticity to pizza products, but a complete revamp of the pizza base shakes things up in an otherwise stagnant category. “The carrier remains the number one reason consumers choose the pizza,” Ms. Reeves-Collins said. By rethinking the carrier, or crust, pizza manufacturers can open the door for more opportunities.

Flatbread has been the obvious next step in pizza crust evolution. Traditional pizza crust itself is a type of flatbread, so swapping it out for another type is a logical jump that can add some sophistication and expansion to pizzas. “More often than not, flatbread is associated with pizza,” Mr. Foran said. “It has some kind of connection.”

Flatbreads can take pizza from a gut-filling entrée to a lighter appetizer or sophisticated meal. This variety gives bakers an arsenal of new ways they can adjust pizza toppings to freshen up product lines.

“There is a variety of flatbreads. They’re all a little different, and they are all here to stay,” Mr. Charles said. “People want something unique, which expands the channels we operate in now more than ever.”

New formats of the pizza concept provide the biggest shake up in the category. Mintel’s survey showed that 41% of respondents are interested in refrigerated or frozen pizza that comes in different formats. This most often manifests itself in smaller sizes and hand-held pizza products, often popular with parents as snacks for their children. These new products force manufacturers to branch out from their traditional round products and expand processing capabilities. “Especially for manufacturers who have been running standard pizzas and want to go into snacking or handheld categories. Whether it’s a 3-in. flatbread pizza or an extruded-type product, it’s getting into a different niche, something that may be unknown for that specific plant,” Mr. Nasti said.

Even different meal parts, such as breakfast, provide pizza producers a place to seek out new opportunities. These pizzas often are loaded with cheddar cheese, traditional breakfast meats and even eggs. While they can come in a traditional pizza size and shape, Mr. Nasti said they are more often offered in hand-held formats for convenience.

When it comes to the snack side of pizza, Mintel’s research pointed to protein as a way for the pizza category to gain some ground. While protein remains a powerhouse nutrient in the consumer mindset, in 2014, pizza introductions touting their high-protein content ranked just 0.5% of all new products claiming to be high in protein. With 37% of US refrigerated/frozen pizza users interested in added nutritional benefits and nearly one in five citing protein as an important attribute, Mintel analysts expected this to be a place where pizza manufacturers can grow. Annie’s Homegrown, Berkeley, CA, took advantage of this with the launch of its Mini Pizza Bagels, which boast 10 g protein per serving. This and similar products appeal to consumers’ desires for on-the-go sustenance.

Pizza’s place as a dominant choice for meal times isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, but to keep the category growing, manufacturers have to step it up in quality and variety. “People are becoming more discerning,” Mr. Mafoud said. “People know the difference between different crusts. They aren’t seeing pizza as a cheap filler anymore.”

Opportunity will be found in high-quality ingredients, creative toppings and new ways to eat pizza. Bakers are going to have to be on their toes, in tune with the pulse of consumer tastes, to keep up. “We’re trying to stay versatile and give the market what it wants,” Mr. Charles said. “We don’t know how the pizza category is going to change; we just know that it always is going to change.”