Looking back at what made headlines in 2012 – and forward to what it means for 2013
By Stefanie Croley
Pizza made mainstream news several times in 2012, with articles
highlighting weird toppings, expensive pies and new forms of
Pizza made mainstream news several times in 2012, with articles highlighting weird toppings, expensive pies and new forms of presentation. The new year typically brings lists of trends to watch for, but we’re changing it up this year, recapping some of the most newsworthy pizza trends from the past year to provide some context for what’s ahead. Joel Gregoire, a Toronto-based food and beverage industry analyst with the NPD Group, lends some insight about what these trends mean for the coming year.
|Pies with pricey toppings – something trend analyst Joel Gregoire says serves a niche market – made news headlines across the world in 2012.|
Different cooking and presentation methods
Among other things, 2012 brought an abundance of new ways for pizzaiolos to present their craft. Several chains and independents offered Valentine’s Day specials complete with heart-shaped pizzas. A new pizzeria opened in March in New York City, where all of the crusts of the four pizzas on its menu were first deep-fried, then topped and baked like a regular pizza. Pizza in a cone became popular in Australia and Italy, where there is an entire restaurant dedicated to serving cone-shaped pies. And an Eastern Canadian chain launched a double-decker pizza, stacking one pizza on top of the other before baking. With concepts like these making headlines, should operators consider presenting their craft in a new way?
“When you can offer something that’s innovative and new to the consumer, it’s not a bad idea,” Gregoire says. However, he advises exercising caution and using good judgment before launching something completely new and possibly out-of-the-box. “A good way to see if something’s becoming more popular is to look on the grocery shelves,” he says. Restaurants are generally at the forefront of experimenting with different foods, but they tend to have more flexibility in changing their menu options. Launching a product in a grocery store is a big investment, so when something hits the supermarket shelves, it can be a good indicator that it’s here to stay.
He uses thin-crust pizza as an example. Gregoire says the NPD Group tracks thin crust pizza versus regular crust pizza, and has seen a growth in the number of times thin crust is served over the last five years. The proof is in the frozen food section: “There’s quite a variety of thin crust frozen pizzas that wouldn’t have been there 10 or 15 years ago.”
Topping trends, premium pies and price tags
Strange combinations always make the headlines, and this year was no exception. In the Middle East, a cheeseburger-stuffed crust pizza and a hotdog-stuffed crust pizza (which came to Canada last fall) were popular items. Last summer’s Calgary Stampede offered cricket-topped and alligator-topped pizzas. Buffalo-style flavoured items gained ground across the board, and more restaurants went gourmet with sophisticated flavour profiles and ethnic combinations.
But Gregoire says there’s no doubt about it: pepperoni is still number 1 in the eyes of the consumer. “People still really like those common pizzas they’re used to with traditional toppings,” he says. “But, there does seem to be a really niche market with pizzas that offer different varieties. It’s a totally different eating experience.” Relating back to innovation, unconventional toppings and ingredient combinations create a buzz, and offering something your competitor can’t gives you an edge. But the success of this depends on your market. Think about your customers – do they come to you for a quick weeknight-meal for their family, or do they prefer a Saturday-evening gourmet experience? “A hotdog-crusted pizza might not be to everybody’s taste, but it’s something you can build some buzz around, and it’s something that might appeal to a different segment of the population: perhaps more families with kids,” Gregoire notes. “But unless the kids have a more sophisticated palate, they probably won’t appreciate a pizza topped with duck, pear or brie cheese.” If you’re hesitant to introduce new things this year, Gregoire suggests a spin on standby favourites, like using homemade pepperoni or introducing a new kind of cheese.
That said, Gregoire predicts consumers’ attitudes about food will continue to change, thanks in part to Canada’s growing diverse population. Overall immigration trends in Canada show more growth in Chinese and South Asian populations, and Gregoire says this opens doors to new flavours that our palates aren’t traditionally exposed to. NPD’s food attitudes data examines how open survey respondents are to trying new and foreign foods, and Gregoire says the number has increased over the last five years, especially in urban centres.
With new toppings and combinations come new price tags, and rather large ones, in some cases. The $450 pizza in Vancouver made worldwide headlines this year. Topped with black Alaskan cod, lobster, smoked salmon and Russian caviar, the pizza must be ordered one day in advance to allow for preparation. “It’s not the kind of food you make dinner out of, it’s the kind of food that you dine from,” Nader Hatami, owner of Steveston Pizza Company, told Canadian Pizza in our September-October edition. “You take it home, you open it up and it’s something that’s very artistic. It has to be artistic, otherwise, why do it?”
Gregoire agrees that premium pizza like Hatami’s is about the experience. “There’s always going to be customers willing to pay for it,” he says. “They want to try it out. We see it with other meals too, like premium burgers. It’s all about the experience that you offer.”
Unconventional delivery and convenience
As food trucks continue to roll out across the country, Gregoire says the trend speaks to novelty and experience. Mobile pizzerias can be found in several provinces. On a completely different side of convenience, a vending machine that dispenses freshly made pizzas in less than three minutes launched in Italy this year, and is reported to be heading to the United States. So, how far will people go for convenience? What do these new options mean for the traditional pizzeria? “There are more and more options for consumers. In order to really stand out you really have to offer a different value proposition for the consumer,” Gregoire says, noting that food service as a whole is becoming increasingly competitive. “Be it on wheels or in a vending machine, if you can offer the consumer something that really helps you stick out, it can only give you a competitive advantage.”
Some of the year’s top headlines may turn into trends, and some will quickly fade. But innovation is at the forefront of all of these trends, and it’s here to stay. If you deem 2013 your year of innovation, Gregoire offers some words of cautionary wisdom. “When you’re innovating, you’re creating a buzz, and people like buzz around food. However, a colleague of mine always says, ‘People like new, but don’t build a factory around it.’”