Looking back at 2011 to gear up for 2012
By Brandi Cowen
This article has been updated.
The new year always generates a storm of lists of what will be hot (and what will not) in the year ahead.The new year always generates a storm of lists of what will be hot (and what will not) in the year ahead. It’s easy to get swept up in the endless trend spotting, predicting what will bring in the big bucks and what’s on its way out.
To kick off the new year, Canadian Pizza brings you a trend list you can count on. We chatted with Linda Strachan, a Toronto-based industry analyst for foodservice with The NPD Group. She shared the lowdown on where the pizza industry has been and where it’s headed.
1. Chains losing ground, independents holding steady
Year after year, pizza remains one of the top items ordered from restaurants across Canada. In fact, for the year ending August 2011, NPD reports that pizza was ordered at six per cent of all restaurant meals or snacks.
However, Strachan notes demand for pizza shrank by 3.7 million eating occasions – or by one per cent – between August 2010 and August 2011, the most recent reporting data available.
The data show that chains, which serve 67 per cent of all pizza occasions, experienced declining demand during that period. Independents didn’t gain any ground, but they didn’t lose any either; consumer demand stayed flat throughout the year.
“The big broad trends that are affecting pizza in a negative way are things that are going on in the marketplace. Number one, consumers are just using restaurants less at supper – that’s been in decline since pre-recession days,” Strachan says.
Evening meal restaurant visits have been in decline for three years running. This could reflect more cautious consumer spending in an uncertain economic climate, but Strachan says it could also be that consumers are choosing convenience foods from the grocery store over restaurant visits.
When they do opt for restaurant visits, more parents are choosing to leave the kids at home. This phenomenon is really making its mark on the pizza industry – 11 per cent of all restaurant meals consumed by Canadian kids include pizza.
2. Aging appetites
As consumers get older, they tend to eat less pizza. NPD reports that kids under 13 and adults between the ages of 25 and 34 are the country’s biggest pizza eaters, logging 17 and 20 pizza meals, respectively, between August 2010 and August 2011.
Compare that to 12 occasions for the 35 to 44 set, 10 for 45- to 54-year-olds and nine for 55- to 64-year-olds. In that same time frame, the 65-and-older group averaged just five pizza occasions in 12 months.
To capture aging consumers as they move into their lowest pizza-eating years, Strachan suggests expanding your menu to include a wider range of items, such as pastas and salads. Many of the big chains already offer salad options, and Pizza Hut has moved into the pasta market with single-serve and family-sized options.
3. Finger foods
Supplementing a pizza menu with finger foods that are easy to snack on and share with others is a trend that shows no sign of going away anytime soon. Wings and breadsticks have already established themselves as menu fixtures, and Italian-inspired sandwiches like the spicy Italian sausage, meatball marinara and veal offerings rolled out at Pizza Pizza last summer are starting to gain volume.
Strachan recommends repurposing your pizza dough to create new items for your menu. Cheesy breadsticks to snack on between slices or cinnamon-sprinkled breadsticks that end a savoury meal on a sweet note are both gaining traction on menus.
4. Top toppings
Today’s consumers tend to consider themselves adventurous eaters, but when it comes to pizza, the classics still come out on top. According to NPD’s data, the 10 most popular toppings are:
- Cheese blend
- Green peppers
- Bacon/back bacon
- Italian sausage
Despite their affinity for old favourites, some consumers are expanding their gastronomic horizons. The following toppings have a small but growing presence atop the country’s pies:
- Non-Italian sausage
- Roasted garlic
- Sun-dried tomato
5. Artisanal innovation
Gourmet options are going mainstream, even filtering down to quick-service operations. The result? Artisanal offerings are now more widely available to consumers than ever before.
“We see that in different segments, and it’s certainly evident right now in pizza,” says Strachan. She points to three artisanal options rolled out by Domino’s Pizza in the United States last fall. The chain’s spinach and feta, Italian sausage and pepper trio, and Tuscan salami and roasted veggie pizzas come in a custom box. A store manager signs each box, guaranteeing that the pie is made fresh to order.
Other foodservice chains are also branding their products with the artisan label. Wendy’s has rolled out an artisan egg sandwich, and Starbucks is now offering a line of artisan breakfast sandwiches.
As a Los Angeles Times story on Domino’s foray into artisanal cuisine noted, the term artisan “used to mean a meticulously handcrafted product, made in small batches.” Whether a big, international chain like Domino’s or Starbucks can turn out handcrafted, small batches has been the subject of much debate, particularly in online forums. What’s clear is that “artisanal” means different things to different people.
If you’re offering artisanal pies, make sure your staff understand what the term means to your brand and can clearly communicate that message to curious customers.
6. Fresh and healthy
Closely linked to the growing demand for artisanal pizzas is a push for fresh fare.
There’s a “whole trend toward people looking for more natural and fresh ingredients” that pizza is well positioned to leverage, Strachan says. “Definitely less processed stuff and more fresh toppings would resonate with consumers.”
According to NPD’s data, there’s certainly a market for whole-grain (3.3 per cent of pizza servings), high-protein (2.5 per cent) and natural (2.1 per cent) offerings. Heart-healthy (1.1 per cent), low-calorie (0.8 per cent) and gluten- or wheat-free pizzas (0.7 per cent) are also in demand.
But Strachan warns that there are plenty of consumers who pick pizza when they want to treat themselves.
“For the most part, when people are going out to restaurants, they want to indulge more so than they would when they’re at home.” Strachan stresses that the main driver is that the meal has to taste good. “If, at the same time, it can be fairly healthy, then that’s a bonus.”
“I wouldn’t go all the way to offering better-for-you type pizzas, but you should have those options available for consumers who are seeking them out.”
7. Local food
Consumers are continuing to seek out sustainable foods with a farm-to-table history that can be unravelled without an Internet search engine or a good old-fashioned world map.
Like so many trends in food service, Strachan says the push for local food “started out kind of on the fringe” and has become more mainstream over time.
In 2010 and again in 2011, local food topped the Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association’s Canadian Chef Survey as the top dining trend of the year.
Strachan points to the Chipotle Mexican Grill as a foodservice operation that has embraced local food with great success. The Denver, Colo.-based quick-service chain’s “food with integrity” philosophy has been a hit among consumers with a craving to know where their food comes from – Chipotle’s growth has outpaced market growth for the last five years running.
Although sourcing ingredients from nearby farms alone isn’t enough to get your restaurant posting Chipotle-calibre growth, it may help you profit from a trend that shows no signs of losing ground.
8. Sweet cross-promotions
Many of the big chains team up with other companies to offer dessert cross-promotions. In the past, Pizza Hut has offered specials that bundle its pizzas with Hershey’s chocolate dunkers, and 241 Pizza has offered a pizza, wing and Two Bite Brownie promotion.
Finger food dessert items are a good start, but don’t be afraid to get creative. Why not try bundling ice cream with a pizza special? After all, as Strachan points out, “If you can get the pizza there hot, hopefully you can deliver an ice cream item as well.”
9. Ordering behaviour
The most popular way for Canadians to order their pizza is by telephone (39 per cent of all orders). More telephone orders are for delivery (22 per cent) than pickup (18 per cent). Walk-up counters (29 per cent) and at a table or sit-down counter (21 per cent) also account for a large piece of the ordering pie.
Internet ordering accounted for four per cent of all pizza orders – or more than 10 million pizza occasions – for the year ending August 2011. That’s up from three per cent last year, and just one per cent in 2009. Those gains have come while total pizza occasions have been in decline.
NPD’s data show that the cheque average per person is higher when ordering online ($10.37), than when ordering by telephone ($8.69) or at a walk-up counter ($5.88). Orders placed at a table or sit-down counter capture the highest cheque average, totalling $16.62 per person.
In today’s tough market, restaurateurs need to get creative to stay competitive. Thinking outside the box – both literally and figuratively – can make your business stand out and help build buzz. With Canadians continuing to cut back on restaurant visits, it’s important to offer something new or different when they do decide to eat out.
“Innovation is really key – giving people a new reason to choose you as opposed to somebody else for those scarce restaurant visits. Maybe it’s a good slice program…. If you’re in an area with high pedestrian traffic, maybe it’s putting a window on the street so that people passing by can stop and pick up something as a snack to eat on the go,” says Strachan.
The restaurant industry has faced its share of tough times since the global recession walloped the world.
Canadians have slowly been cutting back their pizza consumption, but the love is still there. If you can read your market, understand your customers, and stay the course, this too shall pass.