These days, the frozen aisle can generate the kind of excitement in pizza lovers that a candy store does in kids. Thanks to a recent rash of product innovation, consumers will find an impressive selection of products - some of them rivaling pizzerias in quality.
Consumer enthusiasm continues to center on thin-crust offerings, notes Steve Warnert, directory of sensory for Santa Rosa, Calif.-based Amy’s Kitchen.
“The most classic of this style is the popular Margherita pizza,” he says. “Another trend is the move to ‘gourmet’ pizzas that offer unique crust styles [such as] cornmeal, whole wheat, etc., and ‘upscale’ ingredients such as roasted vegetables, various cheese types and regional flavors [such as] Southwest, Mexican and Sicilian.”
Bryan Olson, senior director–pizza category for Minneapolis-based Schwan’s Consumer Brands, notes that consumers exhibit more culinary sophistication today than in the past, partly because they’ve been exposed to a greater variety of foods through restaurants and travel.
“We believe we need to continue to offer a variety of crust and topping combinations to maintain excitement that’s in the category,” he says. “Consumers today are looking to trade up to a better quality pizza.”
Indeed, the bar keeps getting raised again and again in terms of frozen pizza quality, says Dave Ramsay, vice president of Maple Lake, Minn.-based Bernatello’s Pizza. Although the frozen pizza category long has cohabitated with the takeout/delivery pizza segment, not until recently could frozen pies match - or even surpass - pizzeria product quality.
“Now I think that the products coming out are rivaling the delivery business at a much reduced price,” he says. “We’re able to deliver a quality product for a significantly lesser price.”
Consumers also are clamoring for better-for-you options. In fact, during Bernatello’s latest pizza sampling “road shows” at Costco, Ramsay observed that consumers increasingly are reading labels - scrutinizing everything from good fats to bad fats, from calories to carbs.
“Thin crust lends itself to being positive in that sense,” he says. “And people are definitely paying attention to that.”
New to the CaseWhether thin, premium or healthful - or a combination thereof - you’ll find no shortage of newbies to the frozen pizza section.
In September, Kraft Pizza unveiled three new California Pizza Kitchen (CPK) Crispy Thin Crust varieties - Four Cheese with Fontina and Smoked Gouda, Chicken Fajita (with a cilantro pesto sauce) and Mediterranean Recipe (topped with Kalamata olives and roasted eggplant). Annual sales of the CPK brand now exceed the $100 million mark, notes Dave Lynn, vice president of marketing for Glenview, Ill.-based Kraft Pizza Co.
Following the successful launch of its Bellatoria Thin Crust pizza line, Bernatello’s this month is launching Bellatoria Flatbread. The crispy pizza offshoot will be available in Garlic Cheese and Garlic Roasted Vegetable varieties.
Nestlé Prepared Foods Co., Solon, Ohio, also entered the flatbread arena this year, with a thin-crust lineup under the Stouffer’s Corner Bistro brand. Varieties include Chicken, Bacon & Spinach on a Basil and Garlic Seasoned Flatbread; Steak Fajita on a Smoked Chipotle Seasoned Flatbread; Shrimp and Roasted Garlic on an Herb Seasoned Flatbread; and Margherita on a Basil Parmesan Seasoned Flatbread.
On the premium, not-so-thin side of things, Kraft Pizza launched DiGiorno Ultimate pizzas in 2008, with national distribution in July 2007. Featuring a pizzeria-style crust, the pizzas - in Four Cheese, Pepperoni, Four Meat and Supreme varieties - boast vine-ripened tomato sauce, premium cheeses, specialty meats and julienne vegetables. All four varieties already are in the top 10% of frozen pizza unit sales and the top 5% of category dollar sales, says Lynn, citing third-quarter 2007 Nielsen reports.
In yet another premium launch, Schwan’s goes head to head with carryout and delivery. Its new Freschetta PizzAmoré line delivers restaurant-style pizza - pre-sliced for convenience in a unique one-step bake-and-serve tray that ensures a crisp crust throughout and easy serving and cleanup. The pizzas come in medium and large sizes, and in Pepperoni, 6-Cheese, 10-Topping Supreme, Meat Medley and Simply Mozzarella varieties. Stuffed Breadsticks with a bake-and-serve tray - in Cinnamon/Vanilla Cream Cheese and Garlic/Marina varieties - round out the line.
The takeout-inspired lineup is based on one of the “white spaces” Schwan’s identified through segmentation research, Olson says - one the company terms “mom’s night off.”
“We say that at the end of the day, the gatekeeper - mom - is still planning meals for the week,” he says. “She knows when they’re going to order takeout or delivery, and that’s the occasion we are going after.”
For Schwan’s Red Baron brand, the news is a naturally rising Garlic Bread pizza, which Olson says is on-trend with today’s taste profiles.
But perhaps the biggest news - at least in the sheer number of new products - centers on better-for-you offerings.
Earlier this year, Werner notes, Amy’s Kitchen introduced a line of single-serve Amy’s pizzas based on the company’s full-size best sellers, made with all-natural and/or organic ingredients. Among the lineup are cheese-free and rice-crust varieties for consumers sensitive to gluten, wheat or dairy. Also new is an 11-oz. Margherita pizza with an on-trend thin crust.
Organic and all-natural ingredients also are the theme of new frozen pizzas from Rising Moon Organics, part of Dayville, Conn.-based United Natural Foods. The stone-baked pizzas feature thin crusts made from soft wheat flours. Varieties include Pesto & Buffalo Mozzarella, Grilled Veggie, Mushroom, Margherita and Four Cheese.
New to Schwan’s healthful lineup is a Tony’s White Whole Wheat pizza in Pepperoni, Supreme and Cheese varieties. According to Olson, the pizza has the whole wheat goodness mom wants, with the traditional taste kids crave.
For La Jolla, Calif.-based Kashi Co., frozen pizza was a natural extension of its healthful products line. Introduced this spring, Kashi All-Natural 12.5- to 13-oz. pizzas come in Five-Cheese Tomato, Mediterranean and Roasted Garlic Chicken renditions. As a bonus, each serving provides 260 mg. of ALA Omega-3s, 8 g. of whole grains, between 4 g. and 5 g. of fiber, and 15 g. to 19 g. of protein.
There’s even a healthy alternative for the preschool set. New Earth’s Best Sesame Street Whole Grain pizza from the Boulder, Colo.-based Hain-Celestial Group is made with organic ingredients. The frozen mini pizza also gives wee ones 38 g. of whole grains per serving, as well as essential iron, zinc and B vitamins.
Advancing the CauseWith so much to offer consumers when it comes to variety and quality, retailers now can hold their own against takeout and delivery alternatives. And with the right merchandising and promotion strategies, they can drive further growth in this booming category.
Retailers also can promote multiple pizza items at the same time, says Bernatello’s Ramsay, as long as they fall into varying price points that appeal to different consumers.
Lynn suggests merchandising premium restaurant-style pizzas as an away-from-home carryout option.
“It is important that we work together to bring added value to the experience of pizza lovers in the frozen pizza category,” Lynn notes. “The best way for our retailer partners to grow sales in the frozen pizza aisle is to expand space for innovative products that focus on key consumer trends, including premium taste and thin crust varieties.”
“Meal deals” that link pizzas with breadsticks - and even desserts - work well to build sales, says Olson, and also stand to boost frozen pizza appeal outside the Midwest ‘pizza belt.’
For example, Kroger has bundled two Freschetta PizzAmoré pizzas (one large, one medium) with a box of Freschetta PizzAmoré stuffed breadsticks and sold the combo at a special price.
“We just learned that they doubled their sales estimate,” Olson says. “And there are other retailers doing the same thing.”
Finally, make pizza a “destination category,” Wernert recommends.
“Pizza is an American staple across nearly every demographic,” he stresses. “Retailers will continue to face competition from the local pizzerias and takeout shops. Creating pizza as a destination category within the store would enhance the opportunity to move sales through the store.” SF&WB
Editor’s Note: This article originally ran in the November 2007 issue of Refrigerated & Frozen Foods, a sister publication to Snack Food & Wholesale Bakery.