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Foodservice

How C-Stores Are Upping the Pizza Game

Quality ingredients, on-trend offerings boost pizza business
Photograph: Shutterstock

Consumers are increasingly embracing the convenience-store channel as a viable source for prepared foods as the quality of these offerings has improved, and pizza is no exception.

“Traditionally convenience store pizzas have been a me-too product—a round cardboard disk with something that resembled a red sauce and plastic cheese that never melted,” said Christopher Scott, corporate director of food service at Core-Mark International. “We are food quality focused, and the consumers are as well. They really understand and appreciate food, and we have really stepped up our game.”

Core-Mark’s Basilio’s Italian Style Pizza program, which has been rolling out to the distributor’s retail customers for the past three years, offers a level of quality that consumers have come to expect from pizza purveyors.

“It’s closer to to a true, traditional pizzeria pizza,” said Scott.

The Basilio’s Pizza line features individual pan pressed, double proofed dough  made from real flour, sauce made from vine-ripened San Marzano tomatoes from California and 100% mozzarella cheese made from  milk.

According to Technomic’s 2018 Pizza Consumer Trend Report, the vast majority of consumers (83%) eat pizza at least once per month, and more than half of consumers (57%) between the ages of 18 and 34 eat pizza at least once per week.

The high level of trip frequency in the convenience-store segment, along with the relative ease of making pizza on-site, make these outlets a logical source for pizza, said Bob Littlefield, executive vice president at Orion Food Systems, which supplies the Core-Mark pizza program.

“Even if you have a small footprint store, you can get involved in a pizza program, and you can do it with high-quality ingredients, sauces and toppings—all of the things things consumers have come to expect from a pizzeria,” he said.

Data from Technomic’s Pizza report supports the notion that consumers are becoming pizza connoisseurs who are increasingly discerning about the individual elements of the pizzas they buy. Taste is the top driver for consumers seeking pizza (56%), and right behind that are the use of high-quality ingredients and toppings and “best crust”—both at 44%, and both up from 40% in 2016.

In addition to offering a high-quality product, operators who are serious about driving pizza sales also need to consider introducing new varieties to keep the program fresh and interesting. To that end, Core-Mark is preparing to debut a Buffalo Chicken Pizza as a limited time offer in September, to coincide with the collegiate and professional football seasons.

The new pizza reflects not only Core-Mark’s dedication to high-quality ingredients, such as 100% real-milk mozzarella and cheddar cheeses, but it also taps into consumer taste preferences around chicken as a pizza topping and spicy flavors, both of which are gaining traction, said Scott of Core-Mark.

“It’s all those things in one,” he said. “It’s the right time of the year for this, with the right flavor and the right ingredients.

This post is sponsored by Core-Mark

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