Americans continue to get bolder about leaving the house for their meals, including dinners where pizza is the star of the occasion. However, when they do choose to stay home and chow down on pizza, they want to get as close as possible to the quality and variety they might enjoy at brick-and-mortar pizza places. Producers increasingly strive to deliver by offering frozen pizzas that duplicate the menu selections their favorite pizza joints, without hungry consumers having to venture to their friendly neighborhood pizzeria.

Market data

Frozen pizza overall held steady, more or less—according to Circana (Chicago), for the 52-week period ending April 21, 2024, the category took home a cool $7 billion. That figure represents a modest dollar-sales increase of 1.1% compared to the previous 52-week period, and a slight decrease of unit sales of 1.9%. The leader in the category, Red Baron (owned by Schwan’s), sold $1.4 billion worth of frozen pizzas during the period, a dollar sales increase of 11.2%. In second place, Nestlé-owned DiGiorno was close behind, with $1.3 billion in sales (6.4% less than the previous period). Private-label offerings ranked third; they raked in $989.1 million, a decrease of 1.2%.

The frozen-pizza category saw some notable gains and losses among the ranked companies. Screamin’ Sicilian, a Palermo Villa brand, saw its dollar sales jump by 21.9% for the period, reaching $173.4 million. Jack’s, another Nestlé brand, rose 6.2% to hit sales of $398.2 million.

Looking back

Cathryn Seungeun Lee, senior marketing manager for premium pizzas with the Schwan’s Company (owner of Freschetta, Red Baron, and other frozen brands) says frozen pizzas have continued to make frequent appearances in U.S. shopping carts.

“Frozen pizza is extremely important to the total store,” she points out. “In fact, according to a recent survey from Circana Market Advantage, 70% of U.S. households regularly purchase frozen pizza.”

Donna Reeves-Collins—senior vice president for pizza and flatbreads, and value-added bakery categories, for Rich Products—says “Pizza continues to be the number one craveable meal and is one of the most affordable options; over the years, innovation has been a key driver to our success and continues to fuel our growth across all of these formats. We’re creating products that deliver on consumer needs and desires, and are also designed to meet operators’ needs.”

Reeves-Collins adds that the company has emphasized innovation and offering a full range of options to its pizza-producing customers.

“Whether an operator is looking to have Rich’s create their custom scratch-made formula in one of our convenient frozen dough formats or needs a fully topped private label pizza for take-and-bake later items, we can provide all the capabilities they’re looking for, and that is a key growth driver for us,” she states. “Over the past 10 years, we have invested significantly in our capabilities to further our marketplace products. Our portfolio of capabilities consists of a variety of frozen offerings, including Dough Balls, Sheeted Proof & Bake, Freezer-to-Oven Sheeted, Parbaked Crusts, Gluten Free, Plant-based and Fully Topped Pizza, packaged for foodservice, retail deli, and frozen.

Consumers continue to look for indulgent, cheesy experiences with their pizza purchase. They also seek out pies with nutritional benefits, but perhaps less frequently than in the past.

“While better-for-you has previously been a growth driver, it is now showing significant decline in the category over the past 12 months,” says Lee. “That said, Freschetta Gluten Free was the only major player in the better-for-you segment going against this trend, growing both dollar (+19.5%) and unit (+4.8%) sales in 2023, while all key competitors recorded declines.”

Lee adds that in addition to convenience, pizza purchasers increasingly seek smaller portions.

“Another likely pandemic-related growth driver is single serve pizza versus multi-serve as people are cooking for themselves. In fact, 16% of consumers only buy single-serve frozen pizzas, a growth of 1.6 points since 2022,” she shares.

Staying on top of consumer interests has continued to be a top challenge, and top priority, for pizza producers. Reeves-Collins says Rich’s is a big believer in understanding the customer, through the use of a number of tools.

“Any new product that Rich’s bring to market is deeply rooted in consumer research and sensory testing,” she says. “Once we’re sure our new products meet or exceed customer expectations, we then ensure they’re designed for our customers or the channels they serve, such as retailers, food courts, fast casual pizza operators, colleges and universities, K-12 schools, etc. It’s important that we understand our customers’ various needs and then develop and package products to meet their requirements.”

Looking forward

Reeves-Collins, like many other industry professionals watching the pizza category, believes the future looks bright.

“There is every reason to be optimistic for the pizza market and its continued growth; it remains the number one most popular meal choice and one of the most affordable meal,” she states. “According to Datassential’s SNAP! Keynote Pizza 2024, 90% of consumers say they are going to eat the same amount or more pizza in 2024 and 95% of pizza operators expect to either outperform or have similar success in the coming year. As a category leader, we are excited and confident that we are prepared with what the market is looking for. We have the most robust, innovative, and relevant portfolio to help our customers meet consumer wants and needs.”

sliced pieces of pizza
close up of mushroom pizza
Courtesy of Rich Products

Along with the opportunities come obstacles. Lee opines that challenges currently faced likely won’t go away anytime soon, remarking Schwan’s believes the current challenges facing pizza producers (labor costs, increasing material price tags, and the like) will remain for the time being.

“Competitive pressures are growing as companies increase their trade investment and run promotions closer to pre-pandemic levels,” she says. “Consumers are continuing to feel the effects of inflation and are showing signs of seeking better value for their dollars, especially in the frozen pizza category. For manufacturers, rising material and labor costs each year are making it increasingly challenging to protect our bottom line.”

Going forward, Lee predicts trends like more indulgent options, and regional pizza styles like Detroit and Chicago, will continue to be worth watching.

“Freschetta offers naturally rising pizza (with freshly baked dough, made from scratch) that takes pizza to the next level through its undeniable quality; Freschetta’s naturally rising pizza, originally launched in 1996, makes up 45% of the current business,” she shares. “We definitely think this trend will continue as many brands prioritize unique pizza flavors with lots of toppings or play on regional styles.”

While Lee cannot reveal any specifics for the moment, she suggests keeping an eye on Schwan’s and its frozen pizza brands. “At this time we do not have new products we can reveal but we can say we have lots of exciting things in the works as we continue to deliver on consumer preferences and occasions,” she says. “We are always looking at how to improve the category through innovation.”