In the foodservice industry, Panera Bread reported that sales of its flatbread pizzas have been so brisk since they were introduced last October that the St. Louis-based company is reportedly adding new varieties to its menus.

That’s not surprising with the innovation going on in the pizza category. Dave White, chief executive officer, Quantum Technical Services, pointed out the latest topping trends include a plethora of plant-based ingredients, frozen mozzarella balls and a greater variety of cheeses. Workforce issues, he added, are also driving automation.

“With the effects of COVID and labor shortages, flatbread and pizza manufacturers are desperate to automate,” Mr. White explained. “They need specialized equipment to apply ingredients to their products that were previously applied by hand.”

Jeff Zeak, national development manager, bakery, Reiser, said the latest meat, dairy and produce toppings are vegan- or keto-friendly and emphasize locally raised, made or grown ingredients. Additionally, exotic specialty cheeses may be shredded and baked onto pizza crust edges and topped with chorizo and other meat toppings.

Reiser offers a Vemag cheese shredding waterfall and spot depositing systems with excess recovery systems as well as cheese rope extrusion systems for stuffed-crust pizzas. Its meat chipper extruder can be used for cooking meat or direct depositing raw-meat blend toppings on pizza.

Hans Besems, executive product manager, AMF Tromp, an AMF Bakery Systems brand, said AMF Tromp’s newest topping system uses state-of-the-art smart technology with digital quality control. Digital imaging checks each pizza while artificial intelligence analyzes and corrects the settings of the topping applicators in real time.

“By using machine-learning, the equipment’s algorithms actually improve the topping process during every second of production, so continuous improvements, cost-savings, waste control and less operators are needed,” he said.

Nick Magistrelli, vice president of sales for Rademaker USA, stated that the primary goal with pizza toppings is to maintain their integrity and reduce overall waste. Rademaker offers topping systems that handle a host of ingredients, including individually quick-frozen ones where temperature remains a key element in providing a stable process.

This article is an excerpt from the October 2021 issue of Baking & Snack. To read the entire feature on Pizza & Flatbread, click here.