Pizza: demand for fresh up, frozen down

February 06, 2015

Pizza's future will be digital, healthier and more convenient. Supermarkets need their deli and frozen department offerings to keep pace.

Ask Super Bowl partygoers, "Which was more important on Sunday - the game or the food?" The resounding answer for millions every year is "the eats won."

Pizza is one of the perennial favorites on this day, one of its biggest eating occasions on the calendar. For example, Domino's said it would deliver more than 11 million slices of pizza, with 50% of sales coming from digital ordering channels; that's an 80% spike over its typical Sunday volume. 

Domino's also showed supermarkets a key part of the future in prepared foods - accountability to customers for timely delivery, observes Facts, Figures & The Future (F3). Customers with a 2014 or newer Samsung Smart TV were able to track the status of their orders using the Domino's Tracker without missing a play.

It appears little will derail pizza's immense popularity - not even aPediatrics journal study authored by the University of Illinois at Chicago, which pegged pizza as the second-highest calorie source for kids, after dessert, and as a source of extra sodium and saturated fat. Some major pizza chains have alternatives ready: according to Bloomberg News, for school lunch programs, Domino's offers whole white wheat crust, lower-fat, lower-sodium cheese and pepperoni varieties, and Pizza Hut has a new low-calorie Skinny Slice.  

Supermarkets that find ways to connect pizza to wellness (perhaps through nutritious toppings, lower sodium and fat ingredients, cross-promotions with side salads, and the marketing of lycopene) will differentiate from other purveyors whose classic pizza products tend to associate with indulgence, adds F3. As such, they'll have a better chance to avoid a veto vote from someone in a household pondering pizza as their what's-for-dinner solution.

Both retail and foodservice pizza sectors grew in 2014, reportsPackaged Facts: frozen and refrigerated pizza sales in stores topped $5 billion, and restaurant pizza sales reached $41 billion. By contrast, it noted, "the percentage of households eating frozen pizza has dropped between 2010 and 2014 among demographics that have been the category's historical base" - though suppliers are "working hard to improve" nutritional profiles and raise the quality bar.

In the frozen aisle, pizza sales rose 0.3% to $4.3 billion at all retail outlets combined, including convenience stores, during the 52 weeks ended December 27, 2014, reports Nielsen. Unit volume of 1.3 million in the same period represented a 2.1% decline, following a flat 2013, a 4.8% drop in 2012, and a 2.9% decline in 2011. On a percentage basis, the single-serve segment fared worse - its sales fell 5.0% to $1.2 billion on a 6.0% unit slide; this followed declines of 3.6% in 2013, 7.5% in 2012, and 4.2% in 2011, adds Nielsen.

A brighter trend emerges in fresh pizza from the deli department at key U.S. food, club, mass and supercenter store chains during the 52 weeks ended November 29, 2014, Nielsen Perishables Group Fresh Facts tells F3. Sales here were up 6.1% to $699 million, on volume of 159 million units, up 5.0%. Whole pies accounted for 65.3% of this tally, as dollar sales for this segment rose 5.9%; slices comprised 10.6% of the take, as dollar sales for this segment rose 6.9%. (See table for more details.)

Originally distributed in the Facts, Figures & the Future e-newsletter. Click here for a free subscription.