American consumers appear to be developing a taste for pizzas with plant-based meat alternatives.
Research house The NPD Group reports that during the June quarter, 1.2 billion servings of pizza were dished out across the US, about 4 per cent more than during the same period a year earlier.
But the biggest change year on year was the volume of orders from pizza companies of plant-based proteins. Units of alt-meat and ingredients shipped from foodservice distributors to pizza operators increased by 56 per cent.
Pizza is massively popular in the US – according to Eat This, 350 slices of pizza are eaten every second – which equates to about 21,000 slices in just one minute.
For plant-based food companies working to raise awareness of alternatives to real meats, pizza makes for a good platform to introduce consumers to the concept. At the same time, the ability to customise pizzas by changing toppings means that consumers seeking a meat-free lifestyle – or the flexitarians among us – find pizza an easy meal choice, provided pizza companies offer it.
“There is a lot of attention in the marketplace and media about plant-based foods, but there is also interest in these foods from consumers, chefs, and restaurant operators,” says Tim Fires, president of NPD’s SupplyTrack service.
“Plant-based is no longer just a niche player in the foodservice market. It’s a mainstream ingredient that appeals to a broad section of consumers.
“It makes perfect sense that a popular food, like pizza, would now offer plant-based options.”
NPD’s research found that about 20 per cent of consumers want to increase the amount of plant-based proteins they consume – a ratio that has held steady throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.
Not only the toppings of pizzas can be customised. Chefs can use plant-based ingredients such as cauliflower crusts as a base. Shipments of cauliflower dough and crusts to pizza operators increased by 46 per cent in the June quarter.
Plant-based chicken analogue shipments to pizza operators increased by 98 per cent and plant-based Italian sausage analogues by 72 per cent.
NPD constantly tracks shipments from broadline foodservice distributors to commercial and non-commercial foodservice outlets, along with their value.
Little Caesars, the world’s third-largest pizza chain, launched a plant-based pizza called Planteroni (pictured above) on July 12 this year. At the time, CMO Jeff Klein challenged consumers to “taste it to believe it”.
“We want our customers to set aside their preconceived notions about plant-based meat because this product is really going to surprise them.”
Animal welfare organisation Peta has created a comprehensive list of US pizza chains that offer plant-based pizza alternatives as mainstream menu items, including the Planteroni, which is topped with Field Roast vegan pepperoni.
Pizza Hut has released its first vegan meat option – Beyond Meat Italian Sausage Crumbles.
And Dallas-based chain Pie Five Pizza – with 87 locations in 24 states – makes pizza with vegan Daiya cheese, a vegan crust, and five vegan sauces.