Topped off

With U.S. pizza restaurant sales expected to reach $44 billion by 2017, according to Mintel’s latest research, pizza shows no sign of slowing down. Traditional pizza options remain popular, but consumers’ pizza tastes are broadening when it comes to topping off their pies.

Technomic MenuMonitor finds that a wider mix of cheese options are being offered on pizzas than ever before, with varieties such as Parmesan, fontina, provolone, cheddar, goat cheese and feta rising in popularity. And according to the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board, blending other cheeses with mozzarella has been common practice for decades. As pizza cheese blends continue to gain fans, the ratio of mozzarella to other cheese varieties has begun to change, and other cheeses are taking a larger share of the pie.

Consider pairing cheeses like mozzarella with feta, or cheddar with mozzarella and provolone, or Monterey Jack with mild cheddar, suggests the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board. While traditional mozzarella provides the stretch and melting qualities that many consumers look for, blending multiple cheeses on one pie can provide menu intrigue and differentiation.

Also popular are pizzas prepared with no sauce, commonly referred to as white cheese pizza, says the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board. And because cheeses used on white cheese pizzas don’t have to blend with tomato sauce, there is an opportunity to experiment with an array of cheese blends. The Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board suggests that blends for white cheese pizzas feature a combination of soft cheeses for a smooth melt that covers the crust and other ingredients, and firm cheeses that provide body and full flavor.

More unique pizza toppings are appearing on menus as well, such as arugula, potatoes and prosciutto, but the most popular toppings are still the classics. Mintel’s research finds that pepperoni (65%), sausage (54%) and mushroom (51%) continue to be the three most chosen toppings in the U.S., followed by extra cheese (45%), onion (39%) and green pepper (37%).

Although more unique pizza toppings and pairings are available, preferences vary greatly depending on gender, age and geographic region.

Men are more likely than women to order bacon (38% men, 24% women), sausage (60% men, 48% women), pepperoni (71% men, 60% women), and ham pizzas (34% men, 25% women). But women prefer vegetable options just slightly more than men, such as olives (36% women, 33% men), onion (40% women, 38% men) and green pepper (38% women, 36% men).

Consumers aged 18 to 24 prefer bacon (40% of this age group, 31% average); extra cheese (54%, 45%); ham (36%, 29%); and pineapple (26%, 21%). But consumers aged 65+ are less likely to order mushrooms (58% of 65+, 51% on average) and those aged 55 to 64 show a strong preference for onions (47% compared to 39% on average).

Northeast consumers may be more open to innovative new combinations than other regions, with 7% saying they don’t order the usual toppings versus 3% on average. Consumers from the Midwest are more likely to select mushroom (58% Midwest, 51% on average), onion (44% Midwest, 39% on average) and green pepper (41% Midwest, 37% on average) than any other region, making the supreme pizza combination very popular.

Consumers in the South are more likely to order extra cheese (54% versus 45% on average), bacon (34% versus 31%), and ham (35% versus 29%), and consumers located in the West show a greater interest in olives (47% versus 34%) and pineapple (27% versus 21%).

This post is sponsored by Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board


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