Playful hybrid pizzas, international flavours and cool tech tools are on the horizon
By Colleen Cross
Pizza is so much more than an affordable meal option for hungry and tired Canadians.
Pizza is so much more than an affordable meal option for hungry and tired Canadians. With the post-recession upswing in pizza purchases levelling off from a high in 2012, pizza operators are now focusing on quality and innovation, a trend encouraged by the steady rise of fast-casual restaurants, suggests The Canadian Pizza Consumer Trend Report from Technomic. Both quick-service and high-end pizzerias are being challenged to offer the quality, variety and convenience of this middle-ground dining option.
Convenience, cravings rule
Mind you, many Canadians are still motivated by cravings, reasonable prices and lack of time or energy to cook – the top 3 reasons given by customers for their most recent pizza purchase, says the Technomic report, and a convenient location, best overall value, delivery and fast service are the top reasons for returning to their favourite pizza concept. These findings suggest it is wise to use a two-part strategy, it says: offer people something they can’t get at home and remind them pizza is an easy, convenient and affordable group meal.
Playful hybrid products
However, sophisticated customers are also demanding fun from their food, and pizzerias are reshaping and revamping pizza in inventive ways. The Pizza Lollipop from Pizza Delight, the Pizza Cone, started by The Mad Italian but now carried by Pizza Delight, and the Pretzel Pizza from Little Caesars featuring nacho cheese sauce and pretzel crust all drew kudos from Jason Harris during his talk about the future of pizza at October’s Canadian Pizza Show. Replacing the mozzarella with nacho cheese to complement the pretzel crust is a great example of out-of-the-box thinking, Harris said.
Harris also shone the trend spotlight on banh mi, a Vietnamese style of pizza. With elements like marinated grilled pork, pickled carrots, fish sauce, honey, sesame oil, brown sugar, soy sauce and peppers, it may appeal to adventurous palates.
Many pizzerias are experimenting with innovative crusts, such as flatbreads, and using non-traditional ingredients like cauliflower, suggests the McCormick Flavor Forecast for 2015. Customers seem open to these innovations, some of which have health benefits. All this suggests cassava flour may soon have its day.
Dessert pizza gets its due
Speaking of crusts, Chef of the Year Carlo Raillo recaptured his title at the Canadian Pizza Show in October with a delightful chocolate crust. Raillo’s winning Cappuccino Pizza is solid proof the dessert pizza trend is still on the upswing. Made with elements of a frothy cappuccino such as coffee pastry cream and caramel chips, the creation romanced judges over competing savoury pies. If you’re on the fence about trying dessert pizza, remember it could be a way to draw in customers at different times of the day and for different occasions.
These days it’s not just what you’re serving, or whom you’re serving, but also how you’re serving. Because millennials are expected to outnumber baby boomers and gen-Xers by 2020, there is no denying we need to pay close attention to their habits, needs, preferences and mindset, said Carman Allison, vice-president, Consumer Insights, North America, for Nielsen, at Guelph Food Technology Centre’s Trends Forecast in November. It’s not so much about developing new products for them, said Allison, as it is changing the way we deliver and advertise the products to them: “It’s not about what you offer them but how you reach them.” Tony Palermo explores how to do just hat in “Marketing to millennials” on page 16.
A world of flavours
While customers of all ages, but especially millennials, love the familiarity of traditional pizza, they are always ready to try something new, says Technomic’s industry report.
The McCormick forecast identifies a several trends pizzerias may want to experiment with: global spice blends, the slow-food movement and umami vegetables.
The report highlights two international combinations: Japanese 7 Spice (Shichimi Togarashi), a pungent blending of chilies, sesame, orange zest and nori, and Shawarma Spice Blend, a Middle Eastern street food made with cumin, cinnamon and black pepper. The Japanese mix works well to flavour soups, moodle dishes, grilled meats and seafood, it says, and recommends the Shawarma blend on chicken beef and lamb before grilling or roasting.
Call it a reaction to our fast-paced, technologically driven lifestyle or a convenient comfort born of the slow cooker. Either way, food enthusiasts are appreciating a melding of rich, aromatic spices and comforting ingredients into mouthwatering slow-cooked meals. Osso Buco, a traditional Italian dish of braised veal shanks and chopped carrots, onion and celery that is enriched by the marrow in the bone, is a great example of this movement, which is continues to linger. While slow cooking may seem unsuited to the fast-paced environment of a pizzeria, Canadian chefs are experimenting with slow preparation methods such as brining and roasting.
Customers with adventurous palates are interested in naturally umami-rich vegetables like mushrooms, tomatoes, sweet potatoes and nori. Umami, often called the “fifth taste” after sweet, four, salty and bitter, is also found naturally in carrots, asparagus and celery. Maybe some of these items could liven up your vegetarian pizza or provide a fun alternative. Don’t forget to play up the nutritional angle: healthier eating may not trump taste but customers looking for added nutrition – especially millennials who eat out often – will appreciate the nod to healthier eating.
As McCormick forecasters suggested at the GFTC Forecast, these exotic flavours appeal to all ages: they satisfy millennials’ love of travel and desire to bring home new foods to invoke memories of their trips, and stimulate baby boomers’ gradually diminishing sense of taste.
In its latest report, U.S. food and restaurant consultant Baum+Whiteman calls the desire for unique flavours and combinations “restless palate syndrome” and says it’s what makes customers want to eat things like celery root, parsnips and kohlrabi in new ways: mashed, pureed or gratineed and seasoned with meat flavours. It’s also encouraging them to try seaweed as a packaged snack or added to broths and sauces for a dash of saltiness.
Hummus may be the new salsa (which was previously the new ketchup), says the influential trend watcher. High in protein and fibre, and low in fat, it has a wide dietary appeal. With varieties ranging from beet to pumpkin to guacamole hummus widely available, it might pay off to experiment with this versatile food as a dip, spread or condiment.
In fact, why not test out some of these up-and-coming flavours in your store’s pizza of the week?
Cool tech tools lead the way
Just 63 per cent of Canadian customers typically order pizza by phone, down from 75 per cent in the peak year of 2012, reports Technomic. It is now the norm for young customers to spend only a few minutes, perhaps even seconds, making pizza dining choices through their smartphones. The big chains are responding with revamped online and mobile platforms aimed at engaging younger customers. The bottom line: if your customers are demanding different ways of communicating and ordering, it’s time to respond. If they are not, it may pay off to ask the question.
Look for Virool to be big, said Jason Harris. The social media advertising platform lets operators select an amount of advertising money and target a certain demographic and region using creative videos. People view your video and if they like it they have the capability to use numerous social media platforms to inform their friends about your restaurant. The catch is that it must offer them information or amusement value beyond simply selling their product.
Apps like Zomato and Vicinity are helping pizzerias build on their most loyal customer base. And when Apple Pay catches on in the U.S., leading the way for mobile wallets and spilling over into Canada – and we’ve no doubt it will, given our early-adopting ways – it will provide scads of data about customer patterns.
However, it’s worth noting there is also a growing consumer desire for gathering spaces that counter-balance online engagement, a recent report from Nielsen suggests. Restaurants aren’t just places to eat, but also places to meet friends, celebrate occasions and often local landmarks.
New world ordering
Baum+Whiteman makes bold predictions in its annual report, envisioning a near future in which people reserve a table and “pre-order dinner from a mobile device that also tracks how long it’ll take to get to a restaurant.” Pizza Hut has pushed the envelope in this area and made the ordering process more hands-on by adjusting its touchscreen ordering to allow people to customize orders by dragging icons of various toppings onto virtual pizza.
To get the lowdown on mobile technology trends and e-ordering, check out Michelle Brisebois’ on page 24 and Diane Chiasson’s column on page 26.
Baum+Whiteman’s report hints strongly at the death of tipping, a solid trend in the U.S. that is in evidence here in Canada. At the Smoke and Water in Parksville, B.C., which opened last June, customers are not allowed to tip. To compensate it will increase the menu prices and the average wage servers and cooks make. Watch for this policy to trickle down from fine dining. This development fits in well with the emerging notion of selling tickets for dinner instead of taking conventional reservations, says the think-tank, as the addition of a necessary service charge will make tipping impractical.
Fast-casual ups the game
But back to fast-casual. The growth of this concept is challenging both quick-service and high-end dining: QSRs are having to offer higher-quality ingredients while sit-down restaurants are having to offer faster service with more “build-your-own” opportunities. Well-known chefs in the U.S. are attaching their names to fast-casual concepts, which put customers in the driver’s seat by allowing them to choose their ingredients, suggests customers of all ages enjoy having options and having their say.
Keep in mind these new directions in flavour, style, technology and behaviour when planning the next step in the future of your pizza business. They may help you draw those restless customers back to your store – and give them what they don’t even know they want.
Many trendwatchers are noticing a sense of adventure coming out among pizzeria and restaurant customers. Here we take a look at what three respected think-tanks are predicting will be ina demand in the near – and not so near – future.
McCormick & Company (worldwide)