Modern Market guests aren’t especially prone to ordering dessert. But the fast casual was looking for ways to increase check averages, especially at dinner, says co-founder Anthony Pigliacampo, and hiking prices wasn’t the answer. So it looked to expand its dessert program—formerly limited to cookies—with a sweet pizza. “It was an opportunity for us to build incremental sales,” says Nate Weir, director of culinary ops. Six weeks in, the strategy is working: Weir says the pastry now makes up 4% of total pizza sales.
While the idea of a dessert pizza isn’t unique, Weir was challenged with creating a sweet offering that fit with the company’s mission to serve craveable yet nutritional foods. “What flavor profiles could we put together that would translate as a dessert, but not blow it out with sugar content or calories?” he says. Starting with the idea of a fruit crisp, he swapped in coconut oil for some butter in the streusel, while raw turbinado sugar adds sweetness.
Out with the old
This isn’t the first time the chain has tried a dessert pizza. Its original, with bananas and chocolate-hazelnut spread, was liked by customers but an operational nightmare to cook consistently. So Weir used it as a jumping-off point. Weir tried a folded calzone to keep the spread, but it ended up being doughy. “We changed directions a few times,” he says, settling on the dough it uses for savory entree pizzas.
After nixing the chocolate base, Weir tested a sweetened, whipped ricotta, which wasn’t right. So he pivoted to a housemade caramel that’s made simply with three ingredients and has a stable shelf life. That left the topping: Fresh berries drizzled with Greek yogurt and sweetened with agave fit the chain’s health-forward goals. “It looks like icing,” he says. “[Diners] are getting a bit of protein, good dairy, probiotics and tanginess.”
From sample to sale
The biggest challenge has been the lack of knowledge of the strawberry- and blueberry-topped pizza, says Weir. It’s listed on a new part of the menu, away from the other pizzas. To raise awareness, staff are encouraged to offer samples of Modern Market’s dishes in the dining room, and the dessert pizza has been a favorite. One manager told Weir that it has helped sales of the dessert exponentially, with at least one or two guests buying it after samples hit the floor.
In addition to seasonal variations of the dessert pizza with different fruits, Modern Market is exploring other menu add-ons as a way to build per-check sales. The chain added a shareable flatbread for $4 that guests have been adding to soup and salad orders. Now, Weir is playing around with a flatbread plate offered with sauces, veggies and other revenue-building options on the side.