Variety is the spice of life and the sheer variation in pizza base and toppings recipes is continuing to excite consumers and evolve the category.

With producers offering sourdough, charcoal, vegetable-infused and wheat-free bases – and being just as innovative with toppings – it is little wonder that pizza sales continue to rise. Supermarket shoppers bought more than 560 million packs of pizza in the year to 12 August, up 3% on the previous period [Kantar Worldpanel], while price rises boosted the value of the market by 5% to just over £1bn.

“Traditional popular pizzas are still key to sales. However, consumers are becoming experimental with flavours and seeking more premium options to excite and catch their eye,” says Cristiana Ballarini, category marketing director, pastry ingredients, Europe at CSM Bakery Solutions.

Consumer interest in artisan-style bread is being reflected in the pizza market – to the extent that Waitrose brought together two trends, charcoal and sourdough, in one product last year. The limited-edition Woodfired Antipasti Charcoal Sourdough Pizza was launched as part of its Waitrose 1 range following the success of the Heston from Waitrose Charcoal Bagel. The pizza was described as “dramatic looking, with the perfect combination of flavour and texture”.

London pizzeria Zia Lucia also champions alternative pizza bases. Its four varieties include vegetable charcoal, wholemeal, gluten-free and traditional. Each of its doughs are slow-fermented for 48 hours and baked in wood-fired ovens.

Its vegetable charcoal base is made using a black flour from Italy, which contains wood and vegetable matter that is oxidised at very high temperatures before being treated. The black flour is then combined with other flours to create a mix. Co-founders Claudio Vescovo and Gianluca D’Angelo describe it as having an “evocative flavour and dramatic look”.

“Our vegetable charcoal dough has been a best-seller since day one,” says Vescovo. “We believe people will keep focusing on both the eating and post-eating experience, with more consideration for digestion and diet.”

The business charges between £7 and £12 per pizza, with £1.50 extra for its vegetable charcoal, wholemeal and gluten-free bases as these have higher production costs. “We’ve always wanted to provide an amazing product at a moderate price, and to show that cheap eats can be made with the finest quality ingredients,” adds Vescovo.

It also creates seasonal special doughs, such as a pink dough made with beetroot for Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and a green dough made with moringa, which was introduced to mark the opening of its restaurant in Brook Green.

Alongside demand for artisanal bases, there’s lots of interest in artisanal toppings. Mintel’s 2018 Pizza and Italian Restaurants Report says such toppings help menus to get noticed and can boost perceptions of a product. It found that 31% of consumers were interested in, and would pay more for, artisanal toppings such as dry-aged meats.

“Big, bold flavours influenced by world cuisines are trending as toppings,” says Chris Dickinson, new business development director at dough supplier Pan Artisan. “Consumers are well-versed in the broad selection of world foods available and are not fazed by new ingredients, giving caterers free reign to experiment and entice.” 

Dickinson suggests sweet and spicy Asian flavours or barbecue meats inspired by US smokehouses as options for businesses seeking to tap demand for authenticity and provenance.

Foodservice bakery specialist Butt Foods adds chicken tikka, spiced vegetables and mango chutney, or shredded jackfruit in barbecue sauce to the list of topping ideas.

Meanwhile, Richard Cooper, senior brand manager at Dr Oetker Professional, says: “Something we expect to see more of in 2019 is the use of African flavours and ingredients on menus. Minced berbere spiced lamb with pomegranate seeds and tahini paste adds an excellent flavour profile to pizza toppings, especially when drizzled with yoghurt and finished with a mint garnish.”

Vescovo at Zia Lucia says the company often combines cheeses to create unique toppings; its best-seller is the ‘Arianna’ pizza, which has mozzarella, goat’s cheese, pecorino, fresh sausage and truffle honey.

Mozzarella remains a firm favourite with customers, according to speciality cheese provider Eurilait, but it has seen growing demand for goat’s cheese, halloumi and feta.

“Concerns over intolerance to cow’s milk have driven popularity of cheese types that are better tolerated in the digestive system than others,” says Eurilait commercial director Craig Brayshaw. “Goat’s milk has a reduced lactose content and smaller fat globules (compared to cow’s milk), so goat’s milk cheeses are easier to digest, yet still contain essential vitamins, proteins and minerals and appeal to those opting to reduce lactose in their diet.”

The surge of interest in plant-based eating has driven demand for vegan cheese, with Asda recently rolling the product out onto its ‘create your own’ pizza counters.

There are also a growing number of vegan pizzas on the market. Gluten-free brand White Rabbit Pizza Co claims its Smokin’ Vegan was the first chilled vegan pizza to be listed in a UK supermarket, while pizzas have launched under Tesco’s vegan Wicked Kitchen range, and Goodfella’s this year rolled out its first vegan pizza.

As for future developments in pizza, there is interest in expanding the use of pizza to other times of day, such as brunch or breakfast. Pizza base recipes also give plenty of room for development.

Developers could look overseas for inspiration. The Turkish lahmacun, for example, is a flatbread topped with spiced minced meat, vegetables and herbs, while Poland’s zapiekanka is a type of open half baguette sandwich topped with tomato sauce, mushrooms and cheese.

Whichever way you slice it, there is still plenty of room for development in pizzas.

How to solve a sticky situation

With exotic and artisanal toppings on the rise, packaging machinery provider Ilapak says manufacturers are applying an easy-to-open die-cut label to the top of the pizza film to make opening easier and to prevent toppings moving when the end-user opens the pack.

The firm has also noticed a shift to low-density PE films that are easier to recycle and cheaper to produce.

“The challenge is to prevent such recyclable PE films from sticking to the heated sealing areas such as the sealing rollers and jaws,” says Tony McDonald, sales and marketing director at Ilapak.

Treating the machine’s film contact areas with non-stick products such as Teflon or Nedox can solve this, he adds.

All about the veggie base

By incorporating vegetables into bases and reducing the amount of carbohydrates, manufacturers are helping consumers satisfy their love of pizza while getting more of their five-a-day.

“Cauliflower pizza is the most popular,” says Manon Van Essen, founder of vegetable pizza base manufacturer Magioni. “Cauliflower really does look and taste like a ‘normal’ pizza, so for customers it seems the most tempting.” 

While increasingly aware of healthy eating, consumers also want foods that are convenient for busy lifestyles, which is contributing to the success of vegetable pizza bases.

“The UK has one of the biggest pizza markets in the world, so I think consumers are ready for a healthy balance,” adds Van Essen.

Courgette, pepper, broccoli and pumpkin can result in brightly coloured doughs that can be contrasted with toppings to create something that will appeal to both the eyes and the taste buds.

Dr Oetker recently introduced its Yes It’s Pizza range, which comprises two frozen pizzas with vegetable dough bases in spinach and beetroot varieties, while Eurostar Commodities rolled out a range of four vegetable pizza flour mixes, including sweet potato, under new brand Della Terra.

“This market is moving quickly. In Italy, specialist pizza chefs are offering bases incorporating liquorice, charcoal and carrot. This is driving pizza into a more premium category,” says Phil Bull, managing director at Eurostar Commodities.

“These alternative flours create a stand-out pizza base that tastes delicious and will satisfy the most discerning healthy eater and hungry kids alike,” he adds.

While some may think vegetable bases are a fad, Van Essen believes there is room for growth in the market.

“Shoppers are looking for easy, convenient meals, which are as tasty and authentic as something cooked at home,” she says, adding that the number of consumers hoping to meet their daily fruit and veg targets is also increasing.

Alternative options for bases

There are plenty of other baked goods that can be used as an alternative to the traditional pizza base.

In February, Morrisons released a limited-edition duo of Yorkshire pudding pizzas to celebrate Yorkshire Pudding Day (3 February). The Yorkshire puddings were filled with tomato and mozzarella and topped with either pepperoni or meatballs, spicy beef, pepperoni and jalapeños.

Family baker Warburtons recommends crumpets as a pizza base, saying they are ideal for those looking for something quick and tasty. It says the crumpet should be grilled to create the dish and has published a number of topping suggestions on its website.

Pastry manufacturer Jus-Rol suggests its puff pastry sheets make an ideal base for pizza. Puff pastry can be laid flat and topped to make a meal for the whole family or rolled into whirls for snacks or party food.

Butt Foods recommends its Baked Earth naan bread, explaining it is made with natural yoghurt to make it lighter than other naans, and is therefore easier to work with, providing businesses the opportunity to offer more variations on pizza.