Canadian Pizza Magazine

An omnivore’s delight

Michelle Brisebois   

Features Business and Operations Marketing

Pizza toppings are more than just personal preferences – they’re apparently a window to our souls.

Pizza toppings are more than just personal preferences – they’re
apparently a window to our souls.


Domino’s Pizza commissioned Dr. Alan
Hirsch, director of the Smell & Taste Treatment and Research
Foundation in Chicago, Ill., to study how our preference in pizza
toppings reflected our personality. His research indicated that
consumers who prefer non-traditional toppings such as pineapple and
onion tend to be aggressive, achievement-oriented, natural leaders.
They do not easily suffer fools. Hirsch found that people who prefer
traditional, single meat toppings (like pepperoni) described themselves
as being irritable, argumentative procrastinators who frequently and
conveniently “forget” obligations at work and at home. The study also
revealed that those who preferred traditional, multiple meat toppings
are dramatic, seductive extroverts who thrive as the centre of
attention. They crave novelty in all aspects of their life, and are
fashionable and impeccably groomed. Is it a case of nature or nurture?
Do we crave what we want or want what the market gives us? Pizza’s
versatility allows it to fit into a plethora of cuisine styles. The
type of protein on top signals to the consumer whether it’s
straight-up, traditional or more exotic fare. Studying some of the new
trends in protein toppings can give us strong clues as to where
opportunities for growth exist.

So, let’s start with the obvious: pepperoni. Is it still the leader of
the protein toppers or has it had its day? Liz Hertz, marketing
director for Burke, feels that “pepperoni remains king of the pizza
toppings and I believe it will stay there. Italian sausage is a strong
second. In spite of the fact that many consumers like to experiment
with different types of pizza, nearly half of consumers order the same
kind of pizza every time, and many of those are staying with their
traditional favourite – pepperoni.” 


While a pepperoni pizza may be the backbone of the category, new
opportunities exist for restaurants wishing to add an upscale pizza
that can command a higher price or to add a pizza that fits with the
ethnic positioning of their operation. 

“I see the 40 plus crowd moving back to pizza,” says Peter Ecker, a
corporate chef for Sysco. “Restaurants are looking at how profitable
the category is and many of them are introducing pizza that fits with
their menu. An Asian or Indian themed operation can easily create a
pizza that uses things like Thai-inspired ingredients or butter chicken
to make it work for them.

The ethnic bent is one that Hertz is seeing as well. 

“One of our customers has been experimenting with chorizo topping. It’s
a great way to easily add some pizzazz and a flavour punch to either a
traditional meat lovers’ pizza or a specialty Mexican pizza,” says

According to a report for the poultry industry by Technomic, 23 per
cent of Canadians say they would be “very likely” to order a pizza
topped with chicken. Some frozen pizza brands are including a
chicken-topped pizza in their lineup now that this topping is
mainstream and trend watchers anticipate that chicken will gain ground
over time. This same report confirms that 61 per cent of Canadians eat
turkey once every three months, citing it as an underutilized
opportunity in the poultry category. Ecker sees pizzas with rotisserie
chicken gaining in popularity. 

“Chicken-topped pizzas with pesto, white sauces or even gravy are
popping up on menus too,” says Ecker. Poultry toppings address two
consumer trends simultaneously: the shifts towards premium and
health-oriented menu items. 

“I think that in two years, we will be surprised by the staying power
of the interest in healthier menu items. In the past this has been a
passing fad. However, I think that this time it is a slowly evolving
trend. I anticipate that in a few years, we will continue to see
customers demanding and pizzerias offering a variety of healthier
ingredient options,” points out Hertz.

The innovators in the pizza category are busy looking for white space in which to make their mark. 

“If you want to change up pizza, you’ve got two options: change the top
or the bottom,” says Ecker. In that spirit, he sees early adaptors
introducing comfort food pizzas that boast such toppings as pulled pork
and even some traditional pub food. 

“The technology around some deep fried foods makes using them as a
pizza topping a great option. Put on some deep fried onion rings with
the beef brisket and a barbeque sauce that’s not too sweet or vinegary
and you’ve got yourself a cowboy pizza.” 

If a foodservice operator is looking for places to grow, think of
underdeveloped traditionally morning ingredients. Breakfast has been a
saviour for many operations looking to gain share of stomach. 

“We have seen a slight increase in pizza on the breakfast menu. This has been most popular in convenience
stores, since they are already doing a breakfast trade. In addition to
sausage, this menu item also frequently features bacon or diced ham,”
says Hertz. A quick glance at various menus confirms that some
operations even top breakfast pizzas with scrambled egg and cheese as

Organic toppings have made their way on to some progressive menus and
seem to be more of a longer term trend than a fad.  “Organic toppings
continue to be very much a specialty item. While I believe that the
interest in organic and natural products is likely to be a long-term
trend, the growth in this area has been somewhat hampered by the
economy. We have seen the greatest interest in these products coming
from the east and west coasts [U.S.], however, we have had inquiries
from diverse geographic locations,” points out Hertz. 

“I’m even seeing Caesar salad on top of pizza,” shares Ecker.  This
format can give that bacon normally reserved for the Hawaiian pizza a
second purpose.

Proteins speak to the personality of the pizza. Take a look at what’s
on your menu already and think of ways you can incorporate items you
already use in other dishes into your pizza recipes.  And next time
your favourite customer orders his or her usual fare, size up if their
personality matches their pizza!

Michelle Brisebois is a freelance writer and marketing professional
with experience in the food, pharmaceutical, financial services and
wine industries.  She specializes in retail brand strategies.

Technomic names leading menu trends for 2010
Challenged with one of the toughest years on record, restaurant operators may be looking ahead to 2010 with an eye towards further cost-cutting measures. Menu innovation, however, also plays an essential role for success over the coming year by enticing recession-weary diners with compelling reasons to eat out.

Foodservice research and consulting firm Technomic sees these five trends as continuing to stand out for restaurant operators in 2010.

Look for increased menuing of upscale comfort foods, with an explosion of simple foods with a small number of “real-food” ingredients. Expect to see a fresh, premium or high-quality spin on familiar, humble foods, such as artisan cheeses used in macaroni and cheese. Interest in premium burgers and burger concepts will continue, with even greater emphasis on freshness, customization, toppings and condiment bars. Sandwich and other concepts will focus increasingly on hearty melts.

Cassoulets, chili and other rustic bean-based dishes may get new respect.

Korean foods (including Korean barbecue and Korean-style tacos) will hit the mainstream. Look for new interest in Indonesian and other Southeast Asian fare as well. The fascination with global street foods will also play out in the proliferation of Baja-style fish tacos, now moving beyond Mexican restaurants. Expect to see continued emphasis on regional versions of ethnic cuisines, especially with Mexican and Italian fare.

It’s time for umami to become a household word, at least among foodies. Expressions of the savoury, earthy “fifth taste” will range from burgers and other hearty meat dishes to truffle- or truffle oil-accented pasta, cheese, french fries and pizza. Beverage flavour frontiers of 2010 will include tropical ingredients (hibiscus flower, agave nectar, pure cane sugar). Starring in the American regional flavour pantheon is bourbon, used to sauce or spike everything from burgers to chilli to desserts.

Look for more chefs to grow proprietary herb or vegetable gardens. The emphasis on local and seasonal ingredients will grow and flower. Fascination with heirloom farm products – from tomatoes to pork – will continue; by the 2010 holiday season, look for a flap of interest in heirloom poultry breeds.

Lastly, look for breakfast to break out of its traditional boundaries, with breakfast-style fare available all day (and night) at both full-service and limited-service eateries. As fast-food restaurants expand and upgrade their menus of budget-priced breakfast sandwiches and wraps, more full-service operators will be offering hearty brunch buffets well into the afternoon on weekends.

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