At the 2016, Pizza Expo a lot of talk was about the hottest trend in pizza restaurants: the Fast Casual concept. Kelly Weikel, Director of Consumer Insights at Technomics, presented an interesting seminar explaining the reasons behind the Fast Casual revolution as well as ways pizzerias can take advantage of these new opportunities.
As part of Technomics wealth of data, Weikel pointed out that three in five consumers visit a Fast Casual pizza concept on a monthly basis. That number increases to 71 percent for Millennials.
The foundation for the success of Fast Casual pizza restaurants is they are taking advantage of changing consumer eating habits, such as offering high-quality ingredients, healthier food, a better experience and more innovative menu items. Weikel described each consumer preference as follows:
Consumers are now expecting high-quality ingredients on their pizzas for a reasonable price point. These ingredients often include:
- Homemade dough
- Sourced natural cheese
- Seasonal, local, fresh toppings
In consumers’ eyes, the Fast Casual scene is all about “authentic” and “artisan”… the new buzzwords for high quality.
Today’s consumers want to know where their food comes from and how it’s prepared. Technomics estimates that 80 percent of consumes say they alter their pizza consumption because of health concerns. Toppings such as all-natural pepperoni, offered by Liguria, have become very important ingredients. Their focus is on wellness and balance, which means they may opt for a whole grain crust or a side salad.
Consumers go out to dinner and want to make it an “event.” The ambiance of the restaurant is important but also the design or set-up. The beauty of Fast Casual restaurants is they see the food close-up and can peer into the “forno” (oven) to watch their personal pizza bake.
Consumers are always looking for the next big thing and the cycle for new trends is speeding up (the sriracha craze). The chef-driven offerings at Fast Casual pizzerias are a way for them to try the latest spicy topping or a new smoked flavor profile. Many consumers are more open than ever to try new vegetables and spices as part of learning about a new culture.
Weikel ended the seminar on a positive note by offering a number of ways pizzerias – both chains and independents – can compete with the Fast Casual concepts by building on their successful traits. Her recommendations included:
Branching Out: She encouraged restaurant owners to expand their product offerings to provide a more “balanced” menu. Her suggestions include adding sub sandwiches, desserts, craft beer, and craft soda (the latest craze replacing mainstream sodas).
Focus on Service and Hospitality: Restaurants should go out of their way to please their customers. It’s not all about customization, but fulfilling expectations and treating people with respect and courtesy. Also, emphasize the convenience of delivery – most Fast Casual spots aren’t offering any delivery service.
More “Socialization”: Improve the ambiance in the restaurant with music and possibly a game room for children. Also, engage customers outside the restaurant through strong social media marketing.
Quality and Healthy Food: Follow the Fast Casual playbook and source local, healthy ingredients wherever possible. Educate customers on any all-natural or organic toppings on the menu.
The Fast Casual revolution has opened up consumer eyes to a new way to dine and celebrate food. Traditional pizzerias should take advantage of these new trends and adapt to capture new customers.