New crusts and toppings continue to rebrand pizza, whether frozen or fresh, as an attractive meal option.

Favoring fresh

Total pizza consumption has rebounded from a dip in the past several years, according to a Technomic 2016 pizza consumer report. Fast-casual chains and retailers have become more significant players. Menu innovation catering to demands for quality, uniqueness and convenience will be key in today’s crowded pizza market.

While frozen pizza is still a popular convenience choice, it trails takeout and delivery in today’s market. The Mintel study showed that 46% of people eat takeout or delivery pizza from a restaurant two to three times or more a month.

Rich Products produces a variety of pizza products ranging from frozen dough to parbaked crusts to fully topped pizzas for food service operators and in-store retailers. Tina Battistoni, customer marketing manager of prepared foods for Rich Products, said retail operators demonstrate freshness by allowing consumers to see a pizza being topped or by giving the perception that a pizza’s toppings may have come from fresh departments within the same store.

Rich Products pizza
Rich Products produces a variety of pizza products.

“The overarching theme for pizza is the notion of freshness and authenticity and the elevated expectations of consumers, not only in this category but also in all the foods they eat,” she said.

Fresh also plays into the popular transparency trend, Ms. Battistoni added. Rich Products deploys its culinary team not only to help operators maximize a product across recipes but also to educate and help convey the food’s story to consumers. Demand for transparency, Ms. Battistoni said, occurs across all channels.

“Whether that’s transparency on product packaging in the case of frozen retail pizza or transparency from a restaurant in telling the story of a product’s heritage or what the brand means, it’s a way engage with the consumer and establish credibility,” she said.

Schwan's Company Chef Collective
The Schwan’s Chef Collective held a Kitchen Collaborative where a group of chefs tested out different pizza flavors and crust types.

Frozen pizza manufacturers like Schwan’s Co., which produces the Red Baron brand among others, is capitalizing on the concept of heritage and authenticity to attract shoppers to the frozen aisles. The Schwan’s Chef Collective held a Kitchen Collaborative last summer at the Schwan Research & Development Center in Marshall, Minn., where a group of chefs, including celebrity chef Jet Tila, tested out different pizza flavors and crust types ranging from pretzel to flavored dough for potential consumer brand implementation.

“This year, we will accelerate the integration of Schwan’s Chef Collective into how we think about the innovation of the foods we provide to our customers and consumers,” said Dimitrios Smyrnios, chief executive officer of Schwan's Co. “Our collection of talented food professionals is translating emerging culinary trends into great-tasting frozen food that runs that gamut from wholesome to indulgent.”

Nation Pizza co-manufactures pizza around the United States, and Vince Nasti, vice-president of operations, said that younger consumers are pushing many of the new trends.

Nation's Pizza
Nation Pizza co-manufactures pizza around the United States.

“They’re asking: ‘Are you sourcing locally? Are you giving back to the community? Are you sustainable from an environmental perspective?’” Mr. Nasti said. “We have an environmental statement. We do a lot of those things to try to keep up with the industry, to stay with the trends and not just stick with the old go-to flavors or products.”

But fresh and better-for-you options in pizza like gluten-free or organic are not limited to new flavors and ingredients. The timeless varieties of pizza are also finding ways to incorporate these trends. The classics — cheese and pepperoni — are driving the majority of pizza sales in retail and many food service establishments. While Mr. Nasti said Nation Pizza looks for ways to take the next big step, he also knows where the stable ground is for pizza.

“There will always be demand for a traditional type of product,” Mr. Nasti said. “A lot of these other trends are come-and-go; they’re in-and–out. They’ll stay for a while, but the volume is still with the traditional items.”