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    Reinventing the (Pizza) Wheel

    Artisanal pies slice into fast casual market

    By Kathy Hayden

    While some economists are predicting a restaurant recession, there is one bright spot: “recession-proof” pizza.

    Two-for-one deals and other price incentives certainly keep delivery drivers on the move, but a new breed of artisanal, fast casual pizza places are proving that pizza can be a sophisticated choice beyond delivery and desperation dinners.

    For example, take MOD Pizza, a chain of fast casual pizza restaurants founded in Seattle that serves individual artisan-style pizzas and salads extremely fast; the MOD Pizza Green Stripe features pesto drizzled over chicken, red peppers, garlic, mozzarella and arugula. Pasadena, Calif.-based Blaze Pizza’s hook is super-high-heat ovens that allow assembly-line service for fresh, made-from-scratch pizzas in 180 seconds. In the Northeast, OTTO strives to “elevate the pizza experience” with high-quality local ingredients and creative toppings like mashed potatoes and bacon or dried cranberries and squash.

    These fast casuals fall in line with what Chicago-based research company Technomic has identified as “fast food refresh,” one of its Top 10 food trends for 2016. According to Technomic: “Consumers gravitate to ‘better’ fast food, which is transforming and diversifying the industry. ‘QSR plus’ concepts with fresher menus and bright units fill a niche between fast food and fast casual. ‘Build your own’ springs up in more menu categories and more QSRs are adding amenities like alcohol.”

    As inventive pizza proliferates in the fast casual realm, grocerants will need to keep pace. The best way to do this, according to baker Francesco Racanelli – who was brought over from Italy to oversee the launch of Eataly Chicago’s pizza alla pala product  is to make sure every pizza “has a story.” His pizza Napoletana tells the story of street food, while pizza alla pala is made from leftovers for families of bakers.

    Grocerant-Ready Ideas:

    • Ancient grain crust as a nutritious, gluten-free option
    • Breakfast pizza, flatbread appetizers, dessert toppings and more to serve all dayparts
    • Post-baking toppings of mesclun and other produce for instant salad pizzas
    By Kathy Hayden
    • About Kathy Hayden

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