Feb. 9 is National Pizza Day in the United States, and it seems that consumers may be looking to treat themselves to a less conventional slice of the American favorite. New research from Mintel finds that following consumer demand, the number of pizzas launched globally with a gluten-free claim soared 58% between 2012-15. What’s more, the number of pizza launches containing rice flour as an alternative ingredient to wheat increased from 78% to 90% between 2014 and 2015.

The rise in gluten-free pizza launches comes as a result of the growing demand for wheat alternatives, as one-third (32%) of French, 28% of Polish and 22% of German consumers say they would like to see a wider variety of gluten-free pizza. In Italy this number increases to a staggering 44%, while more than half (51%) of Spanish consumers say they want more gluten-free pizza options.

Yet while interest in gluten-free pizza varieties appears to have increased, just 2% of French, 3% of German, 3% of Polish, 5% of Spanish and 8% of Italian consumers actually bought gluten-free pizza in 2015.

“With gluten-free having become something of a lifestyle choice in Western countries, especially among younger generations, it is no surprise that a growing base of consumers is buying into gluten-free pizza,” said Alex Beckett, global food and drink analyst at Mintel. “However, as pizza is an inherently indulgent food, manufacturers need to magnify the quality appeal of their wheat-free pizzas and convince consumers that the taste and texture of wheat-free alternatives is akin to regular pizza.

Mintel research indicates that innovation in lactose-free claims may be the next step for pizza launches. Almost half (47%) of consumers in Spain say they’d like to see a wider variety of dairy-free pizzas, followed by 39% of consumers in Italy, 31% in Poland, 30% in France and 20% in Germany.  

Europe: leader in global pizza launches

While there is certainly a lot of activity going on in the global pizza market right now, it may come as a surprise that even though the United States has held the crown as the most innovative pizza market for years, France now leads the way in retail pizza launch activity. Mintel research reveals that France is responsible for the largest slice of pizza product innovation in 2015, accounting for 11% of all new pizza launches, up from 9% in 2011. Meanwhile, the global share of newly introduced pizza products in the United States has almost halved over the same period; the United States accounted for 1 in 10 (10%) new pizza launches globally in 2015, compared to 1 in 5 (19%) in 2011.

What’s more, while more than 1 in 4 (28%) pizzas launched in 2011 came from North America, the drop in product innovation in this region means that North America accounted for just 1 in 6 (15%) pizza launches in 2015. Europe dominated the sector in 2015, accounting for nearly two-thirds (65%) of launch activity, up from 58% in 2011.

Following France and the United States in pizza launches in 2015 were the United Kingdom (10%), Spain (8%) and Germany (6%).

“It is unlikely that the U.S. retail pizza sector will look back on 2015 with much fondness,” Mr. Beckett said. “With the economy looking brighter, consumers have been trading up and out of retail pizza to more expensive delivery and food service options. As a result of this, and the rapid growth of fast casual pizza chains, frozen pizza makers have been under huge pressure in the region. In Europe, however, retail pizza brands have been investing in premiumization to help compete with the threat from the out-of-home channel, therefore boosting launch activity.”

The United States has been battling with consumers upgrading their slices for food service options, but there seems to be a growing opportunity in the premium tier of the retail market. Mintel research shows that nearly 3 in 5 (58%) U.S. pizza eaters claim that they would buy more frozen pizza if it had more premium or gourmet ingredients, rising to 72% of 25-34 year-olds. What’s more, more than half (55%) of U.S. consumers agree that they’d buy more frozen pizza if it wasn’t so processed.

Asia-Pacific: fastest growing market for pizza

Europe might hold the largest number of pizza launches, but it is the Asia-Pacific region that is the fastest growing market for pizza innovation, accounting for 11% of innovation in 2015, almost doubling since 2011 (6%). Furthermore, Mintel research reveals that the increased number of launches in the Asia-Pacific region in 2015 directly corresponds with a leap in microwavable pizza launches. In 2013, 3 in 10 (30%) new pizza launches in Asia-Pacific featured a microwavable claim before soaring to 58% in 2015.  

“Increasing urbanization in developing markets is driving ownership of microwaves ovens — and with it the consumption of microwavable pizza,” Mr. Beckett said. “It is noticeable that many of the retail pizzas that have launched in Asia-Pacific in 2015 have sought to appeal to the specific tastes and needs of the country’s consumers. As such, a number of Asian-based manufacturers offer toppings with a local flavor twist as part of their ranges, as demonstrated by a number of tom yum-flavored sauces in Singaporean pizza launches in 2015 and roti bases emerging in Thailand.”