The frozen food industry will forever owe a debt to Clarence Birdseye. While his freezing innovations date back to the late 1920s, it wasn’t until after World War II that sales of frozen foods really took off.
Then the American public would have to wait until the early 1960s for the marriage of frozen food technology and pizza to unite on an impactful scale. That’s when Rose and Jim Totino translated their pizza restaurant success into the retail market—success that continues today via the Totino’s pizza brand, now owned by General Mills.
The retail frozen pizza market today is valued at over $6 billion, per IRI, Chicago. It’s a competitive landscape, where flavor and product format innovations drive a steady stream of new products.
According to IRI, for the 52 weeks ending March 20, 2022, dollar sales in the frozen pizza category dropped compared to a year ago, off 1.6% to $6.2 billion. Category leader DiGiorno—a Nestlé brand—fell 1.3% to sales of $1.4 billion. The No. 2 brand in the category, Red Baron from Schwan’s Consumer Brands, saw sales grow 2.9% to $990.0 million. Another notable gainer for the year is CAULIPOWER, up 5.6% to $78.1 million (for more on CAULIPOWER, honored by Snack Food & Wholesale Bakery in 2021 as the “Bakery of the Year,” see “2021 Bakery of the Year CAULIPOWER defines the next generation of better-for-you products”).
Refrigerated deli pizza, while occupying a much-smaller space in retail, demonstrated strength over the past year. According to IRI, the deli pizza category grew 13.7% to $1.7 billion. Private label far and away leads the deli whole pizza segment and grew 1.2% on the year to $738.0 million in dollar sales.
Today’s leading frozen pizza brands bring more daypart flexibility to the retail freezer case.
“In the last year, Nestlé’s frozen pizza brands have released multiple new products that span different eating occasions throughout the day,” says Adam Graves, president, pizza and snacking, Nestlé USA, Arlington, VA. “New products range from indulgent mash-ups to fully loaded toppings to snack-sized-bites.”
These innovations include new products that step into breakfast territory, like DiGiorno Breakfast Croissant Crust Pizza, a perfect option for breakfast, “briner,” and beyond, notes Graves. “DiGiorno Breakfast Croissant Crust Pizza features multiple layers of signature flaky, buttery crust and toppings inspired by classic breakfast options,” he says.
“DiGiorno Breakfast Croissant Crust Pizza varieties are made with high-quality ingredients like 100% real cheese, cage-free eggs, premium pork sausage, and real cinnamon, says Graves. “They are the only croissant-style breakfast pizza available nationally in the frozen aisle.”
The New DiGiorno Breakfast Croissant pizza is available in three varieties: Eggs Benedict Inspired, Sausage & Gravy, and Cinnamon Roll.
Nestlé’ also released DiGiorno Fully Stuffed Crust Pizza this June. “They say you can’t have too much of a good thing, and that’s especially true with new DiGiorno Fully Stuffed Crust Pizza, which takes the brand’s classic stuffed crust to cheesy new heights,” says Graves. The pizza features a full layer of real mozzarella cheese sandwiched between two layers of crispy crust, available in Double Pepperoni and Ultimate Three Meat.
Also new at DiGiorno are Hand-Tossed Crust Style Personal Size Pizzas. “The DiGiorno Small Pizza Line is expanding with two new Hand-Tossed Crust Style varieties, that make for a satisfying option to elevate lunch or snack time,” says Graves. DiGiorno Personal Size Pizzas can be made in the microwave, oven, or air fryer. New Hand-Tossed Crust Style Personal Size varieties include BBQ Recipe Chicken and Chicken Alfredo.
Other new products from Nestlé include:
- DiGiorno Mac & Cheese Pizza—classic DiGiorno pizza topped with creamy, cheesy macaroni & cheese, inspired by Stouffer’s
- DiGiorno Gluten-Free Pizza, available in Pepperoni and Four Cheese
- California Pizza Kitchen Crispy Thin Crust Buffalo Chicken, thin-crust pizza featuring grilled white meat chicken, red onions, parsley, and mozzarella over a spicy Buffalo sauce.
- Jack’s Max Pizza, thin-crust pizza loaded with toppings, available in Double Pepperoni, Mexican Style Supreme, Meat Lovers, and Cheese
“Consumer demand for comfort, convenience, and indulgence are key trends and drivers in the frozen pizza category,” says Graves. “We’re also seeing them look for new flavor mashups, ways to elevate their meals, and entirely new mealtimes to enjoy pizza during. The new DiGiorno Breakfast Croissant Crust Pizza officially introduces pizza to the breakfast space, a mealtime that has grown in popularity among consumers.”
Inspiration can sometimes come from simply listening to brand adherents. “The DiGiorno Fully Stuffed Crust pizza was created in part by fans letting us know it was a flavor they were interested in,” says Graves. “In fact, it was the No. 1 most-requested pizza style by our consumers.”
Today’s consumer might carry new perspectives when it comes to mealtimes and priorities. “COVID-19 has changed a lot in our consumers’ lives, and it’s been important for us to recognize those changes as we’ve thought about our product innovation strategy at Schwan’s Co.,” says Maddie Essman, senior marketing manager, Schwan’s Consumer Brands, Minneapolis. “We know that a reduction in out-of-home eating occasions and a desire for comfort food and indulgence during challenging times have added tailwinds to what was already a strong growth trend in the premium segment of frozen pizza. We also know that a large number of new consumers have been drawn to the frozen pizza aisle for the first time, or perhaps the first time in a while, seeking stress-free and family-pleasing options. We know that many consumers haven’t been able to visit their favorite restaurants as much as they’d like over the past year, and we’re excited to be able to step in to help fill that need.”
The demand for new frozen and refrigerated products has subtly changed due to COVID, says Mike Breitenbach, vice president, customer development and sales strategy, Schwan’s Consumer Brands. “For more than two years, Schwan’s Co. has seen an increase in sales across our portfolio of retail frozen food offerings, and the pandemic has accelerated this trend.”
Taste and convenience have always been critical drivers for frozen foods, notes Breitenbach. “Consumers are increasingly busy, and the frozen aisle helps them prepare meals without a lot of stress. As consumers have relied less on restaurants during the pandemic and more home-based occasions, they have an interest in indulgent and high-quality innovation that doesn’t require a lot of effort or expense. Some of our recent launches have been designed to give consumers an easy way to get a delicious meal regardless of time of day. Items such as Red Baron Pizza Melts, which offer the great taste of pizza you love sandwiched between two slices of crispy toast and ready in just three minutes from the microwave, come in handy during the lunch hour, and our Red Baron Stuffed Crust Pizza and Red Baron Fully Loaded Pizza offers a convenient family dinner the whole family can enjoy.”
Red Baron Fully Loaded pizza launched in October 2021, notes Essman. “Red Baron Fully Loaded pizzas were specifically designed to be an indulgent, restaurant-style experience, taking inspiration from different parts of the pizza world, including deep-dish and pan-style pizzas, to craft something that really feels unique within the category. While amazing taste is always at the forefront of how we think about our pizzas, we’re of course still delivering a great value to everyone from hungry families to pizzas connoisseurs.”
Essman notes Red Baron Fully Loaded Pizza offers consumers a unique golden-brown crust that is crispy on the outside and airy on the inside, a mix of 100% real mozzarella and Cheddar cheeses, hearty cuts of pepperoni, and Red Baron’s signature tomato sauce, in Pepperoni, Five Cheese, and Supreme.
Other innovations fit with specialized dietary needs and desires. “As consumers strive to make small, manageable changes to their health and wellness lifestyle, our Freschetta Gluten Free pizza provides that perfect stepping stone to achieve their goals without sacrificing the great pizza taste they love,” says Essman.
“‘Better-for-you’ is the No. 1 fastest-growing segment in frozen pizza, and Freschetta pizza is a leader in productivity and incrementality within the segment,” says Essman. “We’ve cultivated a valuable and loyal consumer base with our existing Pepperoni and Cheese offerings, but we know that consumers continue to look for flavor variety. We’re excited to address this need by offering an amazing Margherita and Roasted Garlic pizza on top of our perfectly crispy Gluten Free crust—a combination we know consumers will love.” Freschetta Gluten Free Margherita Pizza launched this past April.
We are living in an age of customized and curated consumer experiences. People expect to find products that mesh well with their desires.
“We’re answering consumer demands for more variety, more flavor, and more convenience with innovations that cater to recent trends, and the ongoing at-home revolution,” says Graves.
“We have seen shifts in shopping behavior over the last year in the frozen pizza category, which has been driven by the increase in demand attributed to COVID-19,” says Breitenbach. “The move to dining at home has created unparalleled demand in frozen pizza and many retailers have found themselves experiencing stressed supply chains which resulted in driving higher than average out of stocks. Additionally, e-commerce has exploded, and what many thought would take five years has happened in under a year. E-commerce frozen pizza sales are growing almost four times faster than in-store sales, and e-commerce pizza share went from 5% to 9% of the total category in a couple of months.”
Breitenbach predicts steady growth in the frozen pizza category, fueled by innovation and continued consumer demand for convenient, stress-free, at-home meals that appeal to the entire family. “With substantial market share in the frozen pizza category, we are leaning on sales and trends data as we set the table for what comes next in frozen pizza.”