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Pizza Trends: Square Pizza, Fast Casual, Thin Crust & More

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AJ BeltisAuthor

Who doesn't love a great pizza? Most Americans do, as 41% eat pizza weekly, and 68% order pizza to go at least once a month. At the end of 2016, it was reported that pizza is a $45 billion industry in North America.

So what is it about pizza that keeps the funds flowing for restaurant owners? It's comforting and familiar to many Americans, having become a staple in the local cuisine of major cities like New York, Chicago, and New Haven. There are dozens of different ways to prepare pizza, and some methods are currently more popular than others.

Now that we're a halfway through 2018, let's take a look at this year's most notable pizza trends and how restaurants and pizzerias can decide their best course of action.

1) The Rise of Square Pizza

Square pizza used to be associated with made-in-bulk pizza, oftentimes served in school cafeterias or birthday parties. Turns out, that's not exactly the case anymore.

Say hello to Detroit-Style Pizza. Aside from its distinctive square shape, this style is known for flipping the traditional pizza model on its head - literally. Toppings go first, covered by cheese, then sauce. Despite its rather unconventional appearance and preparation method, it's making a splash in cities outside of Detroit - notably LA and Austin.

If Detroit-Style Pizza isn't being demanded in your city right now, it probably will be soon. Brandon Hunt, owner of Via 313 in Austin, told Eater he thinks Detroit-Style Pizza is "going to be on the same level as New York and Chicago" style one day.

2) The Dawn of Fast Casual Build-Your-Own-Pizza

Build-your-own-pizza restaurants are popping up all over the place. In Boston, Blaze Pizzas and Oath Craft Pizzas have been opening up locations all over, while the rest of the country is being flooded with Pieologies and Pie Fives.

The concept is simple - line up like you would at a Subway or a Chipotle. Choose your crust, sauce, cheese, and toppings. Minutes later, you're presented with your very own customized pizza at a reasonable price.

According to Forbes, Blaze Pizza was the fastest-growing restaurant chain in 2015, coming in hot with a 205% increase in year-over-year sales, while Pieology is on a similar growth track.

However, if you're a classic, well-respected neighborhood favorite worried about being disrupted, don't panic just yet. Not all markets have embraced the fast-casual trend with open arms. It was recently reported that Pie Five will be closing all of its company-owned locations in Chicago, as the concept "just didn't take off in Chicago the way (executives) expected," according to Pie Five Spokeswoman Jami Zimmerman.

I guess that's a warning for all aspiring fast casual pizzeria owners in Chicago - it might be best not to mess with deep dish. All other cities, prepare yourself - dawn is approaching.

3) The Advent of Technology

Admittedly, this has less to do with the making of pizza and rather that ordering and receiving of pizza.

Let's first look at Domino's. Love it or hate it, it's one of the most popular pizzerias in the world, and in part, that's due to its use of technology.

With stock prices steadily on the rise since 2012, Domino's has surged not only in market share but also in its adoption and implementation of both employee-utilized and customer-facing technology. "The more that digital technology becomes the default way that people are going to access brands—and it is already the majority of our business— I think that’s going to continue to play to our strength,” says Domino's CEO Patrick Doyle.

Statista also pointed out the sheer growth that online ordering from pizzerias will see, while the NPD Group found that digital ordering increased by 18% in 2016.

Pizzerias looking to capitalize on online ordering have three options moving forward.

  1. The third-party site, where your name is listed among all the other restaurants delivering nearby. Good for exposure but bad for per-order profit, these sites tend to take hefty fees on each submission through their site.
  2. A restaurant app. Restaurant industry analyst Bonnie Riggs commented that “Digital ordering is now really all about the mobile app." While revolutionary, this app may not yield the greatest return on investment for small, independent restaurants.
  3. An online ordering system integrated with your restaurant's point of sale. You can send customers there and plan to pay one fee instead of a charge for every order, plus it's accessible on a desktop and mobile.

4) The Permanence of Independent Pizzerias

In 2016, word got out that independent pizzerias were struggling. In PMQ's 2016 Pizza Industry Report, it was found that for independent pizzerias with less than 10 locations, "sales dropped by 5.01%... while chain operators (10 or more units) logged an increase of 3.38%" in the previous year.

This wasn't the greatest news for independent pizzerias. However, it turns out this trend may have been only a temporary setback.

In PMQ's 2017 Report, the results were much more positive for independents. Comparing the amount of location closings between independents and chains, chain locations comparatively struggled, hinting that independents had regained their footing against the bigger players.

Keep your chins up, independent pizzerias — by sticking to your core values and staying true to the regulars in your city or town, you've got a great chance of long-lasting success in the pizza business.

5) Breakfast Pizza

No, I'm not referring to the first thing you get your hands on after a big night out. I'm referring to eggs instead of tomato sauce and bacon or sausage (or both) on top of the cheese. That's right - breakfast pizza.

In January, 7-Eleven announced its launch of breakfast pizza. Could this be the first of many businesses to do this?

If you're eager to jump on this trend while it's still growing, consider opening up a few hours early and offering an individually portioned takeout breakfast pizza for commuters on the go. After all, who has time to make breakfast in the morning these days?

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