The International Pizza Expo draws over 7,000 pizza makers who come to see the latest products, techniques and business technologies among the 475 exhibiting companies. Some also come to compete in the pizza challenge that includes categories for some of the most popular styles of pizza from Classic Italian to American Pan.
Workshops target independent pizzeria operators with sessions that include business and marketing skills as well as demonstrations designed to enhance the skills of the pizza maker.
The Craft of Pizza and Beer
At many food industry shows the chef will be front and center demonstrating products for customers to sample, but at this show the pizza maker is the star attraction in leading supplier booths demonstrating the unique skills and speaking the language of the customer.
The focus was very much on the craftsmanship of a great pizza. And the craft beer movement also took center stage with many pizzerias looking for the craft beer partner to complement their pizza.
The conversation at this show was about premium quality, taste, and perfect performance when it comes to cheese. Many operators were there to meet with their long time vendors; others were in search of the perfect cheeses to distinguish their restaurants. In addition to the time honored tradition of mozzarella, provolone and Parmesan on pizza, there was interest in experimentation with other cheeses like Asiago, fontina, gorgonzola, manchego, ricotta, dry jack and feta.
When it comes to pizza toppings, the top three are pepperoni (65%), sausage (54%) and mushroom (57%), according to Mintel. Italian sausage is important to pizza makers, yet there was also interest in chorizo and other specialty toppings with unique flavor profiles.
Customization and Handcrafted Quality
Companies in the meat topping business were quick to discuss customization abilities for pizza makers interested in unique blends for their operations. Operators were interested in ingredients that take labor out of the kitchen without sacrificing the appeal of handmade like crumbled sausage that looks hand pinched.
Heritage and a tradition of quality craftsmanship are particularly important to pizza makers. There were also offerings touting all natural, antibiotic free and organic claims.
Old School, New Age
There are few segments in foodservice driven by tradition like the pizza business. There is great respect for vendors with a long history and a dedication to traditional production. Corporate brochures for several companies showed multiple generations of family committed to maintaining the tradition.
Yet the pizza is, in many ways, a palette for the trends with great experimentation by next generation pizza makers and innovative chefs in other segments of the foodservice industry. We heard about inventive ethnic variations of pizzas, including Latin, Indian and Asian flavors among those in the stands at the pizza competition.
Gluten free crust has been the big talk for several years and that seems to be leveling off to a niche market that will remain important to a small number of consumers with diagnosed allergies. Although the taste and texture of gluten free has improved dramatically in recent years, there is no evidence that mainstream American consumers will be willing to sacrifice taste when it comes to their favorite pizzas.
Whole grain and ancient grain crusts were drawing great numbers of tasters who were commenting on the great taste and consumer appeal of these alternative crusts.
From fresh basil to baby arugula, green toppings were all the rage for garnish and beyond. Produce gives pizza that fresh, homegrown appeal that is so much on trend with today’s consumers.
Chain Operator Cues
Even though the majority of buyers walking the aisles were independent or regional chain operators, large national chains have a significant share of the pie. The top five according to Pizza Today are: Pizza Hut, Domino’s, Papa John’s, Little Caesar’s and California Pizza Kitchen. They are continuing to innovate to keep pace with growth chains making investments in pizza-centric concepts. Restaurant Business magazine noted investments in pizza concepts by Chipotle, Buffalo Wild Wings and Native Foods Café among other former executives of major chains looking at new opportunities in the pizza sector.
Taste Talk Tweet
Tomato wellness was a big part of the Twitter chatter surrounding the Expo, with supporters exalting tomato products in many forms on pizzas, including tomato paste in the base sauce to elevate flavor. Others were surprised at the stat that 75% of consumers report eating pizza at least every other week, while some were in awe of the pizza tossing acrobatics set to music during the World Pizza Games competition.
If you want to follow our observations in real time go to http://twitter.com/OlsonComm. The next conference we will cover is the National Restaurant Association (NRA) Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show May 17-20, 2014.
- Handcrafted Quality Made Easier – suppliers offering premium quality in convenient packages or forms are well-received for growing operations that want consistency without sacrificing quality.
- Accessible Authenticity – the debate about domestic or imported ingredients continues to rage and there are big markets for suppliers offering both of these options. The key is making products easily accessible to operations.
- All things Artisanal – even though artisan has become almost as generic a word as quality, this is a segment that values artisan appeal and seeks out ingredients that help them deliver it to their customers.
- Pairing with Pizza – pizza is big business across all segments of the foodservice industry and suppliers who have products that pair well with pizza have great opportunities in this market, such as craft beer and Italian style desserts.