By Charles Passy
The pizza boom continues.
Americans have long devoured more than their fair share of the Italian favorite. But pizza sales soared during the pandemic, with the major chains seeing a combined 6% uptick to $27.5 billion in 2020, according to one industry report .
And while the fervor may have leveled in recent months — industry giant Domino’s /zigman2/quotes/201587798/composite DPZ -3.86% recently reported a slight sales dip , according to The Wall Street Journal, after seeing notable gains in 2020 — some pizza businesses say they find themselves on solid ground and looking to expand.
Even Google /zigman2/quotes/202490156/composite GOOGL -2.22% is getting in on the pizza game — literally. On Monday, the internet search giant unveiled a pizza-themed interactive challenge as part of its regular series of Google Doodles. Google officials explained that it was tied to the fourth anniversary of UNESCO, the United Nations organization, recognizing the art of Italian pizza-makers as part of the world’s “intangible cultural heritage.”
But pizza is not just about heritage. It’s about big business.
Just ask Brandon Hoy, one of the owners of Roberta’s, an acclaimed, New York City-based pizza establishment that is growing in several directions. Hoy said his company’s sales have been strong during the pandemic — in particular, sales of Roberta’s line of frozen pizzas nearly doubled in 2020. In addition, Roberta’s has opened new locations everywhere from New York to Nashville, with plans to add more in the coming years.
“The marketability of pizza is so huge,” said Hoy.
Others in the industry are similarly bullish. Little Caesar’s, the national chain, recently said it was looking to add more than 100 locations. “The pizza industry is obviously doing quite well, so we’ve taken advantage of that,” said Craig Sherwood, the chain’s vice president of U.S. development, in an interview with QSR , a trade publication for the restaurant industry.
There’s no real mystery as to why pizza is popular, culinary professionals and experts say. It’s a food item that has an intrinsic appeal and checks what restaurant-industry consultant Stephen Zagor calls the three 3 C’s for food-business success — namely, it’s cheap, comforting and convenient.
Moreover, Zagor says it’s an item that’s easily adaptable in terms of different toppings — Thanksgiving pizza , anyone? — or regional approaches.
“There’s an incredible canvas for creativity,” said Zagor.
Consider just one trending pizza style — the Detroit pie, with cheese that goes all the way to the crust. It’s now offered throughout the country. Pizza Hut /zigman2/quotes/209029767/composite YUM +0.50% , another industry giant, has put it on its menu as well.
Pizza establishments did especially well during the pandemic, culinary pros say, for one basic reason: These businesses were adept at offering delivery and takeout for many years prior to the health crisis. So, when the pandemic prompted more consumers to order from home, pizzerias were able to easily rise to the challenge.
“They didn’t have to reinvent the wheel. They already had the platform and the technology,” said Arlene Spiegel, a New York-based restaurant consultant.
Pizzerias are nevertheless looking to find as many ways as possible to deliver on the delivery front and take advantage of the pandemic boom. Slice, an app that works with independent pizzerias nationwide, said it added 5,000 establishments to its ranks since the beginning of the health crisis, bringing the total to nearly 18,000.