CHICAGO – Pizza restaurants have kept menu prices flat during a sluggish economic recovery, a strategy that will pay off in 2012, according to a new report from Chicago-based Mintel Group.

Pizza restaurants that are focusing on “value” in order to attract diners can expect to see a modest 2.9 percent sales increase in 2012, Mintel said. Despite rising commodity costs, the average pizza price has remained fairly flat (up only 1 percent) in the past three years. However, restaurants have been making up for holding the line on pizza prices by increasing the price of other menu items, such as vegetables (up 13 percent), desserts (up 12 percent), pasta (up 11 percent) and salad (up 10 percent), according to Mintel.

“The competitive nature of the pizza industry keeps the leading companies on their toes,” said Eric Giandelone, foodservice director at Mintel. “Menu innovation, thoughtful pricing and national promotions aimed at value have been driving sales in the past several years and are expected to continue in the future.”

Other factors that played into the selection of a pizza restaurant included convenient location, price, speed of service and pizza variety. Mintel said each attribute received more than 80 percent agreement among respondents who got pizza from a restaurant in the past month. However, ready-made pizza and/or a pizza buffet also enticed consumers, especially lower-income patrons and those with children most likely for the added-value proposition.

When it comes to toppings, pepperoni is the leader among 67 percent of consumers surveyed, followed by mushrooms, sausage and onions (53 percent, 53 percent and 41 percent, respectively). While meat and vegetables continue to be popular with pizza buyers, anchovies were not so well-liked with only 5 percent of pizza patrons wanting them on their pie, Mintel said.