It’s not unusual for customers to walk out of the supermarket with pizza slices or pies for the family, as pizza programs have long been a staple of stores’ foodservice offerings.
But with consumers increasingly interested in healthier food and unique flavors, many supermarkets are upping their game by bringing in new ingredients and different pizza options.
In a March category review from the International Dairy Deli Bakery Association (IDDBA), deli prepared and deli entertaining results remained strong relative to both 2020 and 2021 with pizza sales coming in at $56 million, an 8.6% increase year over year. More impressive for the pizza category is the fact that unit movement outperformed last year by 7.1%.
“Spring traditionally brings busy kids’ schedules and more daylight so consumers are looking for and purchasing more value-added meals and grab-and-go options,” said Whitney Atkins, global marketing vice president of IDDBA. “Add in that consumer shopping options are back in comparison to 2020 and 2021 challenges, the outlook for the pizza category remains one of growth.”
Following the trends
Bashas’, a division of Raley’s Family of Stores with supermarkets across Arizona, has found success in its deli department selling fresh-baked brick oven-style pizza using Wisconsin cheese, and routinely offers cheese, pepperoni, sausage, veggie and ham-pineapple pizza.
“At our customers’ suggestion, we have tried a new vegetarian pizza that has proven quite popular, and we are looking to make it a permanent menu item,” said Jorge Alvarez, director of deli at Bashas’. “We’re bullish on our pizza program and are working on adding four new specialty pizza items to our menu.”
Carrie Walters, culinary director and corporate chef of five-store Dorothy Lane Market, noted the stores offer an authentic Naples-style pizza straight out of its in-store oven, which has been a big hit with customers.
Part of the success comes from the dough being made from scratch by Dorothy Lane artisan bakers, and utilizing a house-made red sauce and fresh mozzarella.
“We try to stick to a traditional Italian Naples-style menu, so you won’t find something like a cheeseburger ranch pizza here,” Walters said.
But the supermarket’s pizza program has expanded to other sectors as well. For instance, the bakery department offers bowls of fresh dough, so customers can create their own pizzas at home; and it also offers a take-and-bake pan-type of pizza, with a thicker crust, that has more traditional ingredients, like pepperoni and sausage, as well as pesto and vegetarian.
During the pandemic, pizza programs fared well, with more families eating at home, and pizza being an easy meal to grab on the way out of the supermarket.
“With the exception of introducing our vegetarian pizza, our pizza program has been fairly stable during the last few years, and the pandemic didn’t slow sales,” Alvarez said.
But there are challenges that these programs are facing.
“The same labor challenges that are affecting the broader foodservice industry are impacting us, as well, which has slowed our ability to introduce more new pizza options,” Alvarez said.
Competing with pizzerias
Consumers have a lot of options for pizza, whether it’s grabbing slices at the local pizzeria or the many delivery choices available from fast-food chains like Pizza Hut or Dominos. That’s why it’s vital that supermarket pizza programs offer a competitive advantage.
For instance, a popular event at Bashas’ is its “Pizza Friday Special,” which provides a 16-inch cheese pizza for only $6.99. Customers flock to the store on Friday nights, the retailer said.
“We will continue to provide great customer service, top-quality ingredients and a very competitive retail price, making grocery store pizza a cost-saving option relative to dedicated pizza takeout businesses,” Alvarez said.
Besides the regular menu, Dorothy Lane Market offers a “Pizza of the Month” utilizing fresh ingredients on its Neapolitan pizza. For instance, during zucchini season, it will have a zucchini-style pizza, and during peach season, it highlights a peach pizza with arugula and prosciutto.
Walters notes that the retailer was a little concerned when it first put in the Naples-style ovens in-store, afraid it would impact sales of the take-and-bake customer.
“But these are two different types of pizza and two completely different types of customers,” she said. “Sales for both have been great.”
Getting the word out
Of course, for a pizza program to prove successful at the supermarket, people need to know about it, so marketing is of upmost importance.
“We get the word out about our pizza program in several ways,” Alvarez said. “We place it in our weekly ad about once a month. We also utilize social media channels, in-store signage and intercom announcements.”
During the pandemic, Dorothy Lane Market added drive-up service for its pizza lineup, and it also partnered with DoorDash so customers could get its favorite pizzas that way as well.
“When people look at the old-fashioned yellow pages and think about who they’re going to call to get pizza delivered, I don’t think they naturally think of the grocery store, so we’ve done a lot of merchandising and coupons that we can tape to the box similar to what you might see at Dominos,” Walters said.
Dorothy Lane has a newsletter that goes out once a week featuring pizza specials and heavily promoting the Pizza of the Month, which gets photographed, put on posters and is also featured in the company’s magazine and online.
“No pizza is a bad pizza, and for the customer, it’s fun —variety makes the world go around,” Walters said. “People have their favorites, of course, but we’re proud that we have two different options that customers enjoy.”