by Jennifer Barnett Fox
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Your first pizza is the one by all others will be judged. Beyond the ubiquitous New York fold and Chicago-style deep dish, pizza manufacturers are adapting the humble pizza pie into a meal that can suit consumers looking for gluten-free, vegan and vegetarian options.

Restaurant-inspired flavors
Pizza remains an undeniable favorite and a quick meal, but many consumers are looking for a new level of quality in pizza that includes Old World processes — long fermentation, artisan-made crust, whole-milk cheese and gourmet ingredients. And they aren’t asking for everyday pizza combos. Consumers want more specialty products and multi-topping pizzas with ingredients such as Calamata olives, feta, artichokes and spinach. Rustic Crust manufacturers Old World-style pizza and pizza crust.

Hiding veggies in pizza
Parents of picky eaters are using pizza to add a serving or more of vegetable to their children’s meals. The sneaky vegetable additions can be found in the sauce and crust. Mom Made Munchies adds cauliflower and sweet potato puree into its kid-friendly pizzas with whole-grain thin crust. Peas of Mind created a thin wheat and barley pizza with raw broccoli, cauliflower and carrots.

Gluten-free toppings
Pizza is typically one of the first foods eliminated for celiac and gluten-free consumers. It is also one of the most missed indulgences. Gluten-free pizza is one of the fastest-growing products in the gluten-free category. The gluten-free crusts are typically made with rice and corn crusts. Requests for larger gluten-free pizza offerings represent improved flavor and texture of gluten-free crust offerings. Glutino offers gluten-free topped pizza, pizza crust and pizza mixes. Pizzas from Clean Cravings are free of dairy, soy, corn, gluten, wheat, sugar and yeast. Its thin crust pizzas are made from a blend of arrowroot, sorghum and brown rice flours.

Vegan audience
Vegan consumers were considered a minority. Now a number of manufacturers are producing vegan crust and topped pizzas that cater to a growing vegan audience. French Meadow Bakery offers a vegan all-natural thin sheet pizza dough. Later this year, Rustic Crust will launch a vegan wood-fired pizza as a result of requests received on its Web site and blog.

The ever-expanding pizza market offers manufacturers opportunities to meet the desires of a wide range of consumers with unique flavor profiles and innovative use of ingredients.

Chicago, IL – “stuffed,” up to 3 in. high deep-dish crust
St. Louis, MO - uber-thin, cracker-like round crust made without yeast
New York, NY – leavened crust with extra-large slices for the New York fold
Los Angeles, CA - thin crust with toppings from the California Cuisine-style cooking
Kansas City, MO - a laminated cracker-style crust
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