Taste, convenience drive pizza purchases

CHICAGO Pizza may be one of the cheapest, most convenient foods in the United States, but American consumers overwhelmingly turn to pizza over other meal options because of taste, new research shows.


Arecent study by consulting firm Technomic found that 62 percent of consumers polled said cravings drove their most recent purchase of away-from-home pizza, compared with 25 percent of respondents who went out for pizza because it’s more convenient than cooking at home. Nearly one-fifth of those surveyed said price, coupons or discount promotions influenced their pizza buying decisions.




To capture a bigger slice of the pie -- 93 percent of consumers in the United States eat pizza at least once a month, Technomic found -- chains must appeal to consumers’ sense of taste with bold flavors and diverse offerings, said Darren Tristano, executive vice president of Chicago-based Technomic.




“Operators and suppliers will want to consider what they can do to elicit consumer cravings through adding new items to their menus and emphasizing them through their marketing message,” Tristano said. “Differentiation through pizzas that feature unique flavors and taste combinations that consumers cannot purchase elsewhere or make at home will likely help support this effort. Positioning pizza as a meal solution that is easy, convenient and affordable will resonate with many consumers.”




Technomic pointed out that some emerging chains like zpizza, Extreme Pizza and Pizza Fusion are starting to differentiate themselves with innovative specialty ingredients and the sourcing of all-natural and organic ingredients.




Meanwhile, some of the biggest pizza players have expanded their menus beyond pizza and into new dayparts, as seen in Pizza Hut’s line of Tuscani pastas or Domino’s menu, which company officials said has turned over more than 80 percent over the past two years. In addition to introducing Oven Baked Sandwiches, Breadbowl Pastas and the Chocolate Lava Crunch Cake last year, Domino’s rolled out a reformulated pizza at the end of 2009.




Technomic's study also found that more consumers today buy frozen pizza than in 2008, up to 81 percent of respondents from 74 percent two years earlier. That could be because more Americans associate frozen pizza with higher quality, Technomic found. Thirty percent of respondents said frozen pizza is equal to or better than restaurant pizza, up from 15 percent in 2008.




DiGiorno’s and other frozen-pizza brands are facing stiffer competition from restaurants, both from chains that offer branded retail products in supermarkets, like California Pizza Kitchen, as well as from take-and-bake concepts such as Papa Murphy’s




Many respondents in Technomic's study also expressed a desire for new pizza products to be more healthful. Forty-one percent of consumers indicated such a request, including 41 percent who desire more whole-wheat crusts, 30 percent who would go for more organic ingredients and toppings, 50 percent who would like to see more all-natural ingredients, and 38 percent who would prefer more locally sourced ingredients.




Technomic's pizza study also highlights certain pizza segment trends and initiatives that leading chains have undertaken to cater to them. Among those trends is streamlined digital ordering, exemplified by Pizza Hut’s iPhone app, Domino’s enhanced mobile-ordering websites and Papa John’s desktop widgets.




Chicago-based Technomic surveyed more than 1,500 consumers in February for its "Pizza Consumer Trend Report."




Contact Mark Brandau at [email protected]