KANSAS CITY — Earlier in 2020, Technomic’s Pizza Trend Report identified that 43% of consumers eat pizza at least once a week. And as many consumer preferences have changed since the start of the pandemic, what consumers expect from fresh deli-prepared pizzas — taste, quality and value — has stayed the same, said Stuart Demanowski, senior product manager of the pizza and flatbread category business unit at Buffalo, NY-based Rich’s Foods.

“Consumption of made-to-order and take-and-bake items has skyrocketed since the start of the pandemic as consumers shift to dining at-home vs. away from home,” Mr. Demanowski said. “We’re also seeing consumers purchase more cost-effective meals that are widely popular, filling, and have the potential to feed multiple people. Pizza satisfies all of the above.”

Since COVID-19 hit, Rich’s has seen tremendous growth in deli-prepared and frozen pizza purchases. Consumers are using pizzas as easy meal solutions they can stock up and store in their freezers. Holly LaVallie, vice president of Hormel Deli Solutions, a division of Austin, Minn.-based Hormel Foods, said consumers also are being drawn to pizza programs that leave room for ordering flexibility.

“COVID-19 has steered consumers to look for pizza programs that provide them the ability to add to their pickup order, customize toppings and have tamper-proof packaging or no-touch collection points,” Ms. LaVallie said. “As people are eating together at home more often, we’ve seen a shift away from pizza sold by the slice toward more whole pizza purchases for family occasions.”

pizza featuring sweet potato crustAlthough traditional pizzas like cheese and pepperoni — according to Technomic pepperoni is the top pizza choice with 33% of consumers reporting it’s their favorite pizza order — it’s hard to deny the growing plant-based industry and its impact on the pizza category. According to Nielsen, 39% of US shoppers are trying to eat more plants.

“The plant-based trend can’t be ignored,” Mr. Demanowski said. “From gluten-free and vegan to vegetarian and keto-friendly, Rich’s has debuted pizza products that require less labor, less prep time and less waste, while giving consumers the plant-based options they’re looking for with the same delicious texture and taste. Some of our new crust options beyond cauliflower include zucchini, sweet potato and broccoli and cheddar, among others.”

As consumer demand for plant-based continues to rise, Rich’s cauliflower crust remains in top demand. Non-plant-based top sellers include traditional take-and-bake pizza ranging from pepperoni to cheese to supreme.

Rich’s offers a full range of pizza products from dough balls to fully topped pizzas that allow retailers of any shape or size to build a strong, on-trend programs for their consumers, Mr. Demanowski said. The company’s newest products include:

• Fully-topped Margherita Cauliflower Gluten Free Pizza

• Plant-based, modified atmosphere packaged crusts, which extend shelf life

• Pizza kits, which include all the ingredients for families to express creativity and make their own pizza creations together at home

• Heart shaped pizza crust (launched in February)

• Football shaped pizza crust (coming soon)

Hormel also has experienced increased demand for both plant-based pizza toppings and gluten-free options, Ms. LaVallie noted.

Pepperoni, sausage, chicken and bacon continue to drive the category, but plant-based has seen enough demand to drive the creation of Hormel’s Happy Little Plants brand, which includes plant-based pepperoni-style, chorizo and Italian-sausage style toppings.

“Hormel Foods is the pizza topping expert and we can help design a successful pizza program by offering several topping varieties and the convenient pizza options customers are looking for,” Ms. LaVallie said.

Green Bay, Wis.-based BelGioioso Cheese has seen success with its artisan, clean label cheeses, perfect for using on any pizza.

“From delicate, milky Fresh Mozzarella to creamy Low Moisture Mozzarella’s to Provolone and custom blends, we have the broadest assortment of Italian style cheeses in the industry,” said Sean Moran, vice president of sales at BelGioioso. “High quality ingredients, which lend delicious flavor, is the most enduring trend.”

shredded mozzarella cheeseMost recently, BelGioioso launched a premium quality low-moisture mozzarella cheese called BelGioioso Platinum Mozzarella. Designed for customers who were looking for a premium quality low-moisture mozzarella offering, Mr. Moran said from a flavor, melt, and stretch standpoint, the new cheeses exhibit superior performance.

Ms. LaVallie suggested that retailers cater their pizza programs to shoppers who are eating at home through offering meal bundles and plenty of customizable, online options.

“Offering salad, soda, breadsticks and dessert together is a great way to make grab-and-go easy,” she said. “The smell of fresh pizza is also a way to create excitement, offering hot pizza to go at peak meal occasions as a quick and easy lunch or dinner.“

Retailers can also drive sales to online shoppers by making it simple for customers to customize their pizza ingredients and add the product to their online carts. Mr. Moran pointed out that “impactful images, accurate descriptions, and boosted searches or banner ads are all critical to driving online sales.”

For instore shoppers Mr. Demanowski suggested placing display units in multiple locations throughout the store, directing customers to deli pizzas. He also noted that retailers that supplement other digital tactics along with online ordering such as “recommended for you” and offering curbside pickup and delivery as purchase options will have more success.

“First and foremost, ensuring deli-prepared pizzas are visible on the retailer’s website and online channels, with product details,” he said. “Leveraging compelling visual content of the products, including before and after shots, help grab attention and drive consideration.”