Grabbing A Slice of the Pie

The rise of pizza offerings continues at the deli counter.

Keith Loria

In the United States, 350 slices of pizza are eaten every second, with 40% of Americans eating pizza at least once a week,according to the Washington, D.C.-based National Restaurant Association’s (NRA) Pizza Industry Council. And while a majority of these pizzas are being purchased from local pizza places and delivery QSRs, many consumers are discovering great pizza in their retail deli department.

According to the Madison, WI-based International Dairy Deli Bakery Association (IDDBA), in 2021, the deli pizza category rebounded from low sales numbers caused by the early days of the pandemic, to see growth of 5.8%.

Overall, the category did approximately $679 million, with 75% of the business coming from whole pizza sales. With an average retail of $6.48, deli whole pizzas provided a great value to other take-out options.

However, single pizza slices are trending upwards, the latest IDDBA figures show. In fact, the category increased 47% in sales in 2021 attributed to the fact that consumers were much more mobile.

Further data from the IDDBA revealed deli pizza indexes higher in the Northeast, with Buffalo/Rochester and Baltimore/Washington D.C. being the two largest markets.

Additionally, more than 19 million households purchased deli pizza in 2021, averaging 2.4 times per year with an average basket of $80.41.

Karen Barro, national sales director of Pocino Foods Co., Industry, CA, notes consumers enjoy the deli retail pizzeria pie, because it is less money than a typical pizzeria, plus because people shop hungry, it provides instant gratification if it has an enticing presence. After all, what could be better than grabbing a quick slice of pizza while shopping?

“Those that are a success with pizza will have it presented in a lighted open case and provide easy access to grab,” she says. “You want to have variety in your offerings and a clean presentation.”

Pocino Foods Co. provides toppings for pizzas such as pepperoni bacon and salami. That’s why Barro says delis should do their homework on the demographics of the area to figure out what the popular pizza toppings are and make sure that they have what people are craving and demanding.

Jim Viti, vice president of sales and marketing for DeIorio’s Foods, Utica, NY, notes creative convenience by the retailer makes for a successful pizza category in the supermarket deli.

“Technology continues to change the consumer approach in rapid fashion but committing to tried and true tactics in these new formats will always prove successful,” he says. “Always look to be on trend with ingredients and components and make it as easy as possible for the consumer to purchase.”

DeIorio’s Foods is known for its fresh alternative pizza crusts, such as gluten-free, broccoli and cauliflower plant-based and sweet potato crust options. And more are on the way in 2022.

“We continue our research and development of products that will meet the future health demands of our customers,” Viti says. “Whether that’s heart healthy options, low carb options or those that manage food allergies and intolerances, DeIorio’s has its focus on producing pizza crusts that fit in with these dietary demands and taste good.”

DeIorio’s has also developed gourmet pizza kits that incorporate the dough, sauce and cheese into a single purchase package. This allows the consumer to start with the basics and then work with the deli to build around the concept with ancillary components that are on trend.

“It is creative as we can incorporate various dough bases aside from the classic dough such as various plant-based doughs,” Viti says.

Losurdo Foods is a Hackensack, NJ-based Italian foods manufacturer, specializing in pizza dough, pizza cheeses and more.

The company’s chef, Jilly Falgiano, notes there are a couple of ways that the company works with retail delis, starting with providing the dough to the broadliners, who in turn, sell to the retailer.

“The first step in incorporating pizza into their offerings is by getting the right equipment and making sure they have the right labor,” she says. “It depends on the size of the deli, and it all starts with their mechanism of how they would cook it, as there are so many different pizza ovens out there right now.”

From there, the deli needs to choose the type of pizza they want—whether it’s Sicilian, Chicago-style, Detroit Deep Dish or whatever they want to serve, and come up with their menu.

“Pizza went from being a $34 billion market in 2020 to $46 billion last year, so delis should hop on the bandwagon, and if they do have the space, they should be doing this,” says Falgiano. “Pizza is not going anywhere.”

Top Trends

The experts agree that classic pizza will always be number one as a go-to comfort food for the family, as it should be. Beyond that, the landscape is consistently reinventing itself. That’s why it’s important to pay attention to the latest news and quickly pivot offerings.

“Anything that’s a novelty is popular,” Falgiano says. “That’s going to be your wheat dough, your multigrain dough and things along those lines. Another thing that’s very popular is honey on pizza.”

Quick adaptation to the latest trends of all three components—dough, sauce and cheese—will always prove a basis for success.

“The single-serve pizza category has grown over the past two years,” Piraino says. “Prepacked products that are easy to grab and go have been great for the customer during the pandemic.”

Technomic’s most recent Pizza Consumer Trend Report forecasts that pizza with organic and natural ingredients are on the rise, as are healthier options and low carb alternatives—all trends that have been growing in recent years.

Pocino Foods Co. is touting Asian-inspired toppings in the year ahead, and believes that’s a trend that will be popular in 2022. Barro also believes antibiotic-free and uncured nitrate-free meats, and organic and gluten-free crusts are gaining a lot of traction in the category.

Consumers desire different flavors, which is why DeIorio makes sure to stay on top of what’s trending.

“Various flavored on-trend dough balls such as broccoli, sweet potato, chickpea and of course cauliflower is in demand to inspire consumers’ changing appetites and provide healthier indulgences,” says Viti. “With these, the consumer can feel good about and still enjoy the comfort that pizza brings to the table.”

Joseph Piraino, sales representative of DePalo Foods, Inc., Belmont, NC, which makes artisan-quality Italian baked goods like calzones, Stromboli, pinwheels and pizza dough, pays strict attention to what’s happening in the retail deli pizza segment.

“Success starts with having the right dough and appearance,” he says. “If you do, then customers will return for more.”

Marketing Matters

Many retail delis have pizza stations, making fresh pizza throughout the day, while others have cases selling individual slices that people can grab and go. A growing number of consumers look for the prepared pizzas that they can take home for dinners.

“When people come into the deli, they want it to be quick, but they are also demanding healthier things,” Falgiano says. “Instead of boasting ‘we have a great slice,’ retailers should be marketing it as the deli being the ultimate pioneer of grab-and-go.”

Even with a food that is as desired as pizza, a savvy marketing plan is needed by retailers to sell more.

“There needs to be a larger presence of marketing,” says Barro. “There should be signage, banners and a small awning drawing attention to the pizza. Some people might not think about pizza as they are in the store, but if you bring them to the area, it could pay dividends. You want to create that ‘a-ha’ moment.”

Retailers that take action will do better, Viti says. For that reason, he recommends promoting the gourmet aspect of fresh deli pizza.

“You’re in the consumer mind somewhere between frozen pizza and dining out,” says Viti. “Try to upscale the fresh aspects of your offerings. Be more than a belly-filler afterthought and make your area a food destination by consistently showing new and exciting ancillaries, while maintaining traditional and classic front and center.”

Piraino notes it all starts with creating a product that is aesthetically pleasing to the customer.

“Today we sell our calzones in a container that allows the customer to see what they are purchasing, from the topping to the color of the dough, it’s all important,” he says. “Customers in the deli buy with their eyes. A product must be seen and presented well to a customer.”

Pizza brings people together. Whether it’s made from scratch, pre-baked or a customer is looking for a calzone to eat for dinner. Piraino notes these classic Italian meals are delicious whether you’re eating alone or looking to have a meal with the whole family.

Keeping products available and consistently fresh is a regular challenge. Variety is great and easy to discuss, but too much of a good thing can become costly and increase inconsistencies in the deli.

Viti recommends deli retailers stick with the tried and true and keep that at the forefront but explore the ancillary trend items regularly and make it a point to get in front of promoting trends to catch the wave before it passes.“Pizza is comfort, it’s familiar, it’s family,” he says. “It’s a cost-friendly indulgence. It’s classic and yet it’s endless variety. It’s always on trend. It’s proven. It’s pizza. When we sell pizza, we make happy consumers.” DB


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