Julia Child once said, “Everything in moderation … including moderation.” What a perfect description of our love affair with food, especially comfort food. America loves its comfort foods, and pizza tops the list. In a December 2015 Harris Poll, pizza was the clear no. 1, beating the next two favorites, chocolate and ice cream put together. Pizza is a food we love to share with family and friends and that we eat because it just tastes so good. In fact, most of America will moderate any other food choice before pizza.
Because of our love of pizza, Mozzarella is America’s favorite cheese, with per capita consumption more than 11 pounds per year. Almost 60 percent of the cheese that California produces is Mozzarella, tying the California dairy industry even more closely to America’s love of pizza. With so many changes occurring in the pizza industry, let’s take a closer look.
Technomic’s Top 500 report measured the foodservice pizza industry at $56 billion in 2015, with Limited Service Restaurants (LSR) comprising $38.1 billion or two-thirds of the total. Of the Top 500 chains measured by Technomic, Quick Service still dominates the Limited Service pizza space, but the emerging Fast Casual pizza segment continues to grow at double digits, with six Fast Casual Pizza Chains in the Top 500 up 36.7 percent in sales in 2015.
Across these chains, cheese options include: Mozzarella, Cheddar, Parmesan, Ricotta, Gorgonzola, Blue cheese, Feta, goat, “dairy-free” and “vegan.” Taking a look at the websites and marketing materials for the top Fast Casual Chains, we see some common themes:
These statements paint a picture of transformation within the pizza industry — from mass produced to customized, from frozen to fresh, slow to fast, and in many cases tipping the price value scale toward a new value proposition — freshness, quality and speed at a good price.
As we consider occasions for pizza, dinner and weekends dominate. But fast casual opens up significant new opportunity for pizza at lunch. Elise Wetzel, co-founder of Blaze Pizza, describes its origins, “It’s a concept that was scratched out on the back of a napkin, because Rick and I wanted some great pizza for lunch.” They and others have succeeded in delivering what is often a lighter, faster, and much more lunch-appropriate pizza. This is an obvious opportunity for both Mozzarella and specialty cheese growth.
Another opportunity for a win-win between the pizza and dairy industries is with dessert. In the Harris Poll referenced earlier, ice cream was tied with chocolate for America’s second favorite comfort food. Of the Fast Casual pizza chains mentioned, MOD Pizza serves milkshakes and Your Pie offers gelato. With a typical pizzeria often lacking some of the margin-enhancing options of other restaurants such as appetizers and desserts, gelato and pizza are a natural fit.
According to Sheila Crandell, the director of sales for California-based Villa Dolce Gelato, “Five years ago gelato sales were $10 million. That category has now grown to $200 million in sales driven initially by retail. We see tremendous growth for gelato at foodservice as consumers become more savvy and look for healthier, lighter desserts.”
According to Euromonitor International, Western Europe and North America dominate global pizza sales with $98 billion between them in 2014. Latin America is third at $19 billion and Asia Pacific fourth at $12 billion. Asia Pacific however leads the world’s growth at +27 percent. This presents another significant opportunity for the U.S. dairy industry and especially for California given its proximity and significant Mozzarella production.
Whether across the world, or across town, pizza plays an important role in our lives, connecting us, and often saving the day. Last weekend my wife was out of town, and gradually my house filled with nine teenagers. As dinner time rolled around and they hadn’t left yet, I didn’t have to think twice about the solution … three extra-large’s from our neighborhood pizzeria. Just doing my part!