ROCKVILLE, Md. — Restaurant operators are thinking outside the pizza box, experimenting with gourmet toppings and flavorful twists on the traditional dish, according to a recent report from Rockville-based Packaged Facts.
“Menu developers are exploring ways to balance health versus indulgence, and convenience versus experience in terms of pizza types and procurement methods,” Packaged Facts said.
Packaged Facts identified four key ingredient segments offering ample opportunities in pizza innovation: proteins, cheeses, vegetables and sauces.
While sausage and pepperoni top the list of popular pizza proteins, featured on 73 percent of restaurant menus, prosciutto as a premium alternative is trending. Its incidence has risen 27 percent as a pizza topping since 2010, Packaged Facts said.
Mozzarella may be the most commonly used cheese on pizzas, with 71 percent menu penetration, but Packaged Facts noted growth in goat cheese, gorgonzola and fontina on menus in recent years.
“Utilizing more interesting cheeses is one way to denote premium positioning as well as to help differentiate menu items from traditional pizza variants,” Packaged Facts said.
The most prevalent vegetables on pizzas are onion, tomato, mushroom and peppers, featured on at least 73 percent of restaurant menus, but such herbs as cilantro, oregano and basil are popping up on more pies. The latter has grown 20 percent on pizzas since 2010, Packaged Facts said.
“These ingredients have strong alignment with authentic Italian flavors and communicate ‘fresh,’” Packaged Facts said. “As part of the fresh proposition and to create unique flavor profiles, operators are using herbs to create pesto-based pizzas.”
Tomato sauce, marinara and red sauce are most commonly slathered on crusts, but non-traditional sauces, such as ranch, white sauce and alfredo offer a twist in flavor and appearance. Examples include a California chicken bacon ranch pizza from Domino’s Pizza, spinach alfredo pizza from CiCi’s Pizza and a gourmet white specialty pizza from Mellow Mushroom Pizza Bakers.