These strategies help brands drive sales of this menu classic.

Sponsored by Haliburton International Foods.

As a menu classic, pizza already appeals to a wide variety of consumers, but it comes with challenges, too. Because it’s so ubiquitous, it’s much harder for brands to stand out with pizza alone. Yet some restaurants are finding ways to experiment with new combinations that not only attract diners but serve as a powerful, profitable menu offering.

“With pizza, you’ve got to reinvent the wheel, pun intended,” says Mike Leccese, director of culinary and research and development at Haliburton International Foods. “You have to look for new, exciting on trend ingredients and toppings that differ from what people grew up on.”

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with offering pepperoni pizza—in fact, some consumers prefer to stick to their favorites. But when everyone else offers pepperoni, it’s not likely to be enough to draw in new diners or convert them into loyal fans.

This is especially true of contemporary diners, who are much more adventurous eaters than previous generations. And because pizza is adaptable to almost any flavor profile or daypart, it’s the perfect dish for creative exploration. The challenge is experimenting wisely so brands earn the biggest returns.

Leccese says restaurants can turn to other industry trends for inspiration. For example, as many diners are drawn to “artisan” or “craft” foods, using similar designations on menus can draw eyes. Why not try unique, upscale proteins that consumers already love? Leccese says prosciutto, braised short rib, lobster, and carnitas could be effective options, as opposed to the familiar and traditional. In fact, Datassential’s August 2018 Foodbytes: Pizza Keynote reports 80 percent of consumers “wish their local pizzerias would offer more premium, innovative toppings.” Restaurants can capitalize on this pent up demand by adding unique offerings to their menus.

“Duck confit is one of my favorite foods, pair that on a pizza with caramelized onions, fresh arugula, bleu cheese and a fresh cracked egg baked on top for a great on trend artisan style offering,” he says.

Though pizza itself may not be the healthiest menu option, some diners are looking for more nutritious topping choices. Leccese says instead of just offering mushrooms or onions, try offering kale, spinach, asparagus, or artichoke hearts, and not to shy away from sauces that aren’t made with tomatoes. “While white sauces still have lots of potential, so do lighter olive oil-based vinaigrettes, flavored pestos, chimichurri sauces, and hummus-style spreads,” he says. Alternative doughs featuring cauliflower, avocado, and sweet potato can attract diners with allergies or who choose to abstain from gluten. In fact, Datassential’s Haiku, a machine-learning platform, predicted gluten-free pizzas will grow 41 percent over the next four years. Datassential also reports 69 percent of consumers already know what gluten-free pizza is, but only 22 percent have tried it, leaving room for growth. On the other end of the spectrum, some diners are embracing more flavor-forward cheeses than a standard mozzarella. Consider using smoked gouda, goat cheese, feta, fontina or chipotle havarti.

Regardless of which options restaurants choose, Leccese says marketing is a crucial component of pizza success. Items that look or sound great on social media are more likely to be talked about and create buzz. Additionally, restaurants can find ways to drive margins by marketing pizzas with beer or wine pairings.

If you create a pizza with grilled chicken, a light pomodoro sauce, burrata cheese and top it with grilled summer squash and pickled onions,” he says, “it can then be paired with a craft IPA or house made sangria. The citrus and hoppiness from the IPA or the sweetness and fruit flavors of the sangria will pair well with that style of pizza which could be marketed on the menu driving additional margins through beverage sales.”

Another great way to drive pizza margins is by ensuring ingredient consistency, quality, and pricing by pairing with a vendor that can help support in those areas and provide brands with resources to unique culinary creations.

“We help brands create on trend custom sauces and toppings to elevate their menu offerings,” Leccese says. “We work with our suppliers to help leverage the market’s seasonality pricing. We also use social media to help qualify culinary innovation efforts. Working with a strong culinary team can help brands can learn more about the market and keep costs down at the same time.”

Find out more about how Haliburton helps brands create custom sauces and toppings.

By Peggy Carouthers

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