Frozen pizza is going head-to-head with pizzerias as manufacturers roll out nontraditional crusts and toppings
Asiago cheese, flat bread crust and oven-roasted tomatoes are a few reasons why frozen pizza is giving Pizza Hut, Papa John's and other pizza restaurants more competition.
Cash-strapped consumers aren't eating out as often to save money, but they still want to enjoy the restaurant experience at home.
Enter frozen pizza, which is increasingly meeting their needs as manufacturers add upscale ingredients to enhance their “restaurant quality” appeal.
Even the packaging is improving, as many frozen pizzas are now sold in pizzeria-type boxes, rather than coming shrink-wrapped on a flat piece of cardboard.
“Pizza has gone upscale,” said Douglas Hinkens, dairy and frozen-food manager, Crossroads County Market, Wausau, Wis.
Along with high-profile products like Kraft Foods' DiGiorno rising-crust pizza, Crossroads County Market has had success with specialty brands like Borbello's Pizzeria Style Pizza and Bellatoria, a flat-bread pizza that comes in varieties like garlic chicken and asiago cheese.
“The ingredients are much higher quality than they used to be,” Hinkens noted.
While this means a higher price tag, frozen pizza still provides an economical meal when compared to eating out, said Hinkens.
Frozen pizza represents up to 30% of frozen sales at Crossroads, according to Hinkens.
“It's still the ultimate convenience item,” he said. “Pizza provides a quick meal and cleanup.”
It does so well that, as part of a frozen-food expansion project, the category will soon get an extra two doors, for a total of 21.
Crossroads frequently cross-merchandises wine, garlic bread and frozen juices near frozen-pizza doors.
“We do a lot of cross-merchandising,” Hinkens said.
Frozen pizza generated $2.9 billion in sales in food stores for the 52 weeks ending Sept. 6, a 5.8% increase from 2008, according to Information Resources Inc.
Kraft's DiGiorno is by far the leading brand, with $535.6 million in sales for the same period, a 16% increase.
DiGiorno increasingly is competing with neighborhood pizza parlors with new products like DiGiorno Ultimate, a premium pizza topped with high-quality ingredients, like vine-ripened tomatoes, whole-milk mozzarella cheese, specialty meats, julienne vegetables and a rising crust. It is available in flavors like Four Cheese which includes whole-milk mozzarella, mild brick, fontina and reggiano Parmesan imported from Italy.
Also new is DiGiorno Crispy Flatbread Pizza, an extra-thin crust pizza that comes in flavors like Tuscan Style Chicken, made with grilled white meat chicken, spinach, oven-roasted tomatoes, garlic and a creamy red sauce.
Kraft launched the brand in March via an innovative marketing event in which a temporary “DiGiorno Ultimate Pizzeria” was set up on the famed Magnificent Mile in Chicago to distribute free samples. The restaurant's exterior conveyed a traditional neighborhood pizzeria.
Then there's Schwan's Freschetta PizzAmoré, which takes frozen pizza convenience a step further by providing pre-sliced frozen pizza pies.
Though more expensive than traditional frozen pizza, upscale offerings are still a value when compared to what it would cost to go to a restaurant, said Shirlene Ingraham, grocery-marketing analyst, Yoke's Fresh Markets, Spokane, Wash.
“They can buy a DiGiorno for a lot less than they would spend at Pizza Hut,” Ingraham told SN.
Besides the savings, eating at home is becoming more attractive to the many Americans with swine-flu concerns, Ingraham said.
“People fear that if they go out to a restaurant they'll be exposed to germs,” she said.
An added plus is that frozen pizza is healthier than going out to a pizzeria.
“Parents feel that if they eat a pizza at home, they can control the portion better than if they eat out,” she said.
While national brands are performing well, private-label frozen pizza ranks second in dollar sales after DiGiorno, generating $292.5 million in dollar sales for the 52 weeks ending Sept. 6, a whopping 34% growth from the same period in 2008, according to IRI.
Like national brands, private labels are tapping into the specialty trend with products like Supervalu's Wild Harvest Organic Uncured Pepperoni Pizza. The pizza contains no artificial preservatives, synthetic colors or flavors.
Indeed, pizza is meeting the needs of health and wellness shoppers with whole wheat, low-salt and all-natural ingredients, thanks to brands like Amy's, Kashi and Newman's Own.
“Pizza has the connotation that it's not the healthiest meal,” said Debbie Leland, natural and specialty food buyer, Kowalski's Markets, Lakeville, Minn. “These [health and wellness] pizzas reduce the guilt.”
There's even pizza for those on restricted diets. Upscale independent operator Kowalski's Markets, for instance, just added a frozen gluten-free pizza from Glutino Food Group, Laval, Quebec.
“A lot of people have gluten sensitivity, so we wanted to offer them something,” Leland told SN.
Glutino just launched its fifth pizza flavor: Chicken Pizza with BBQ sauce, made with whole grain, brown rice crust topped with mozzarella cheese and all-natural, antibiotic and hormone-free chicken. Other flavors include Spinach and Feta Pizza, and Spinach Soy Cheese Pizza.
“The nice thing about our pizza is that it has a brown rice crust, which gives it a lot of taste and flavor,” said Laura Kuykendall, senior marketing manager, Glutino's.
Once limited to natural food stores, Glutino's pizzas are now getting support from mainstream supermarkets.
The availability of Glutino pizza comes at a time when nearly 3 million people in the U.S. have celiac disease.